Anxiety in Children: Arrival of a New Sibling

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This article first appeared in MamaAtWork on 17 July, 2014.


Child Anxiety Sleep

There are times when the cause of stress in children is a specific, known, traumatic event. In fact, children experience many such events in their daily lives. Some are mild, such as a friendly puppy jumps on a child and frightens her. Other traumas are more severe, such as long hospitalization following an illness, death of a family member, or natural disaster affecting the neighborhood. Sometimes even hearing of a frightening event or news on TV can be sufficient to traumatize children.

In this article, I’d like to highlight about stress in the arrival of a new sibling that could possibly affect a child’s sleep. Symptoms of stress around the new baby are:

  • Increase in separation anxiety, clingy, refusal to go to school or daycare, resistance to being alone in a room, especially at night.
  • Increased crying and temper tantrums, often triggered by insignificant incidents.
  • Increased fears and nightmares.
  • Regression in toilet training, feeding etc. Wanting to be treated like a baby.

Firstly, as a parent, you need to recognize that this is a normal phase that is to be expected when there is a new baby in the house. Put yourself in your child’s shoes. She has been getting undivided attention from you all this time and now she has to share you. Furthermore, you are constantly with the baby. In her world, she feels like everything is crumbling down around her. Her sense of connection with you is weakened and this is a very scary feeling for a child. She may think she has lost mommy to the baby.

She may show great love and affection towards her baby brother/ sister or she could also show aggression towards him/her. Either way, the regression in your child is not solely because of her new sibling, but because her confidence level has now wavered with someone else getting all your attention. When your child “acts up” it is her way of coping with stress and wanting to connect emotionally with you again.

It is already hard enough trying to care for the new baby 24/7 in the early weeks, so what can parents do to overcome these challenges?

Introduce Special Time

There is a special kind of undivided attention that is useful in creating emotional safety. Parents can set aside a certain time period when it is convenient. An example would be 15 to 30 minutes after nap or after dinner. In Special Time, the parents are in charge of where, when and how long, while the child is in charge of playing whatever she wants.

Some guidelines to Special Times:

  • Pay attention to only one child at a time. Be completely present and available, with your full attention on your child.
  • There should be no TV, mobile phones, putting the towel away, or in between running household chores while Special Time takes place.
  • Let the child initiate all the activities and decide how to spend the time with you.
  • Use a timer, and inform your child that Special Time is over when the timer goes off.
  • Do not have expectations in your mind such as “Oh she’s going to play with her baby dolls again for sure, what else would she want to play with”. Light up and smile. Bring freshness into your Special Time with your child. Show enthusiasm.
  • Try not to bring up the topic about the new baby during her Special Time.

When Special Time is carved into their daily lives, you will see a more confident child; a child who is more resilient to changes around her and a happier self. With the emotional safety that is created around her, she has an outlet to release any fear and anxiety that are stored in her. When her stress and upsets are offloaded into a safe space, these feelings would not bubble up in their sleep. As a result, your child will soon be sleeping well in the night again.