Friday, June 13, 2008

Oh my cow! A Question!!

Amy C. writes: I have a 15 month old son and a 1 week old daughter. Any tips on how to help my son adjust to having a little sister? He throws tantrums over everything all day long. And by the end of the day i'm exhausted just from following him around to stop him from doing what he shouldn't be doing. Luckily my newborn is easy and sleeps a lot but on the rare occasion that i need to hold her longer than 10 minutes, my son freaks.

Your boy has gone through quite a change in the last week, and it's so frustrating for him because he doesn't really have the skills to communicate his feelings. That's why he's having tantrums. It's handy that Claire is exactly 15 months old, so I know exactly where he's at, developmentally.
The good news for you is that his receptive language is a lot farther a long than his expressive language. In other words, he understands you a lot more than you understand him. Sometimes, helping him avoid the tantrum can be as simple as saying, "Are you mad? Do you want me to hold you? Just one minute, ok?" can help him hold it together long enough for you to take care of the baby and get to him. Don't worry about letting the baby sit in a wet diaper while you finish reading to your son or letting her cry a minute while you get him a drink... She will not remember, and a few seconds won't kill her. In fact, I found it very useful with MG (who was 19 months when Claire was born) to say, "Just a minute, Claire! I'm with your big sis right now!" whenever Claire cried and I was doing something with MG, so that MG wasn't the only one hearing, "Just a minute" all the time. Did Claire understand? Of course not. But MG did, and that's what mattered at the time.

One thing that worked very well for us, and still does, was to have a special song. If I was nursing Claire and MG wanted in my lap, I would say, "I can't hold you just now, but how about if you sit with me and we sing your song?" It's been especially useful at bedtime. Claire has her own song, too, and I don't sing Claire's song to MG or MG's song to Claire. But sometimes Mary Grace sings Claire's song to Claire, which melts my heart into an ooey gooey mess.

A lot of the books say that you should get the baby a doll to play with while you're feeding your baby, so you can say, "you take care of your baby while I take care of mine." That didn't work so well for MG (although she remains very attached to her doll, Moses). What worked with her was a stuffed cat (Biscuit, who was "Bikkits" for a long time). Any security object like that can help, and if it's roughly shaped like a mammal (face, limbs, etc.) he can pretend it's his "baby" and do what you're doing with the baby along with you. Give him a wipe and let him "wash the puppy" while you wash the baby. Talk to him about what you're doing. Ask for his help. He is probably capable of getting a toy for the baby, or getting the remote for you. The Wise and Powerful Dr. Dave says if you're only going to teach your kid one thing, you should teach him how to be a helper. Go ahead and start now, because if he feels involved, he's less apt to feel left out.

It's also not to early to talk about what a wonderful big brother he is, and how much the baby loves him. He won't understand every word, but you're home all day with two kids, what else are you going to talk about? Send someone to the library to get you a bunch of books about being a big brother, and read them to him. Maybe the baby could get him a little present every so often? I'm not saying you should bribe him, but she did miss his birthday, after all, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to promote a good sibling relationship with a little present.

I find suckers work well for bribes. My kids may not have teeth by the time they're 11, but at least I'll still be able to hear. It's hard to be in a bad mood with mouth full of sugar.

I can't recommend highly enough the adjustable pouch that Kangaroo Korner makes. Get a mesh one, because fleece is way too hot for summer. When Claire was little, I'd put her in the sling and she'd conk out and I would have time and energy for MG. We went everywhere in that sling. We could go to the park and I could help MG on the slide and the swings while Claire was perfectly happy and content, snuggled up next to me (which is where babies want to be, anyway). I walked all over Washington DC with her in the sling. It really saved my sanity. It's expensive, yes, but well worth the investment. When are those folks going to start paying me a commission, because I have shouted their praises from on high for over a year, now...

We also did a lot of singing and dancing in those early days. I would put on Rhinoceros Tap or Dog Train (these days we're into Choo Choo Soul and They Might Be Giants ABCs). MG would happily sing and dance with me. Claire would love the movement and the music from inside the sling. Good times. Of course, you're still recovering from the birth, so go easy. No break dancing for at least 5 more weeks.

Finally, for your own sanity, create a space in your home where you can leave your boy on his own for 5 minutes, and know that he won't kill himself on anything. It could be his room, or a toy room, or the living room - wherever - so long as it is 100% childproof. Otherwise you're not going to be able to take your eyes off of him unless he's asleep, and being that vigilant toward your toddler with a newborn in the house is just exhausting. Get a gate, cover all the outlets, make sure he can't get to any lamps or pull over any shelves or dressers or jump off of anything tall, and lock his little butt up once in a while so you can have a break. If you do it as part of your routine ("Ok, it's time to play in your special room! Oh boy!!") instead of as a punishment ("Mommy has HAD IT! Go to baby jail for 10 minutes! Do not pass go, do not collect $200...") he's more likely to accept it and less likely to scream. If he'll tolerate a playyard (I don't know who these kids are that will happily play in a playyard, because neither of mine were ever the least bit excited about them, but everyone has a pack and play so maybe it's just us...), that could work, but you need to be able to go pee and do laundry and make meals without worrying that he's going to do a swan dive off of the china cabinet into the aquarium, you know? So, if you haven't already, make sure that there is a place where you can let him be on his own, and put him there a few times a day with his best, most fun toys.

This is the hardest part. I promise you that in about two weeks, he won't even remember what life was like before he had a baby sister in the house. She'll just be part of the furniture until she starts to crawl, and then walk, and then look out because they're going to start fighting over toys.

Keep me posted, and we'll cross that bridge when it comes. And check the comments, because I have the smartest, most talented readers in the entire blogosphere, and I know they've got all kinds of excellent advice that I forgot... Right readers?


Jen said...

You could always sell one of them...

Wendi said...

Came over to let you know I greatly appreciated your kind words on my blog. I have been so overwhelmed by the amazing sweetness of so many - some who have never even met me. You truly brightened my day. Thank you.

shawna said...

My newborn has been home for a week now and my 2 year old is enthralled with him... but is acting out a lot with her dad and I, so it's not just 15 month-olds that have this problem. Last night she threw a 10-minute tantrum over the fact that I peeled her banana down an extra 1/2 inch for her.

Not much has worked for us at the time of her fits, but I do find it helpful to talk to her as an adult at bedtime (i.e. seriously, and giving her credit for understanding me) and acknowledge that it's not easy for her, and explain how she's a big girl and a great big sister and we need her to make life a bit easier for us rather than harder since it's such a big adjustment for everyone, etc.

Jenn said...

My first three were all 2 years apart and some days were fine and others like I've read about here, it will get better though. You cracked me up over the they may not have teeth ! haha