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Dear Katherine: My Son Is Having Trouble Adjusting to Big Life Changes

Dear Katherine, 

Our second baby was born only a few weeks before the pandemic began. 

I know my older son loves his baby brother, but I’m fearful that in addition to dealing with the huge adjustment of having a baby in the house, he associates his brother’s arrival with the negativity of the pandemic. 

My son is a strong-willed, opinionated child, and these events have understandably been stressful for him.

How can I be there for him and help him separate these two big life changes?

Sincerely,

Bad Timing

Bad Timing,

My hearts goes out to you.

It sounds like your older son has a lot on his plate right now. I commend you for taking a step back to empathize with him during what must be a challenging time for your whole family. 

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When you have more than one child, you open up a new world of twice the joy. . . and twice the challenges.  

As supportive parents, all we want is for our children to get along, but older kids can have a difficult time adjusting to sharing attention and affection with a new sibling. This adjustment period is perfectly normal, and in your case it’s compounded by a couple of other factors.

First, your older son is a strong-willed, autonomous child. Autonomous children, by nature, are at high risk of attracting their parents’ disapproval. When your son acts out, he solicits negative attention, which can make him feel like you’re favoring his younger brother over him. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

To make matters even worse, your older son’s whole world was upended by the pandemic shortly after his baby brother came home. In addition to adjusting to the normal shifts in routine brought about by having a new baby around, he also had to adjust to the stress of COVID-19. 

So, how can you solve these problems together?

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The first step is to recognize the unmet need that is causing this tension inside your older son. You said he loves his brother, which is wonderful, but he probably still needs reassurance that his parents love him just the same even though there’s a new baby at home.

Once you can help him understand that he didn’t lose anything when he gained a brother, he’ll have an easier time viewing the situation in a positive light and separating it from the negativity of the pandemic.

Here are some parenting tips that can help you support him during this adjustment period:

  • Schedule one-on-one time. Setting aside dedicated time for your older son is critical for his self-esteem right now. Your son probably fears that his little brother will overshadow him. Making a point to have time for just the two of you will assure him that you have enough love and affection to go around.
  • Explain the candle metaphor. It’s hard to explain the love you have for your children in terms that they can understand: that you love them both equally, even though they’re completely different people. One clever way to illustrate the unlimited space in your heart is to show your son a lit candle. Use the lit candle to light a new candle. Explain how both flames are equally bright, and that the first one didn’t lose any of its brightness when the second one lit up.
  • Be more communicative. I know that you’re busy, especially with a new baby to take care of. There are times, I’m sure, when you can’t schedule that one-on-one time that your son needs. When it’s hard to squeeze in time for the two of you, tell him how excited you are for your next one-on-one. This verbal reminder will boost his self-worth and assure him of just how much you love him.

Bad Timing, you can be grateful that your strong-willed son is letting you know that he needs some reassurance right now. His willingness to express his negative emotions signals that your relationship is already strong. 

Love and Blessings,

Katherine

P.S. Want the chance to ask me your parenting questions live? Join our Tuesday Tips for Parents inside the Conscious Parenting Revolution Private Facebook Group.

3xTEDx Speaker, Media Contributor, parenting coach and mom of two. Helping families thrive for over 20 years using the Guidance Approach to Parenting.