I recently had a mom of a seven year old girl tell me she was having a lot of problems with her daughter. She wasn’t doing the things she was asked to do, she was arguing a lot, and generally challenging her mother with virtually everything. I also had a mom of a five year old girl tell me she was suddenly having problems with her daughter not wanting to go to school. She too was acting out a lot. Both these little girls have something in common. The mom of the seven year old also has a two year old and a new baby. The mom of the five year old has a new baby as well. When I suggested the new arrivals might be the cause of the misbehavior, and helped them to see life from their daughters’ perspective, they agreed competing with a new baby was probably a big contributing factor.
Babies require constant care and attention. They’re totally dependent on an adult caregiver, which usually is the mother. Older children, who were once the center of attention and were used to their parents always being there for them are going through a major transition when a new baby comes along. They all of a sudden have to hear a lot of “You’re a big boy/girl now. You can do that by yourself” and “I can’t come right now. I’m busy with the baby”. Their interpretation of that is often “The baby is more important than you.” Of course we know that not to be true, but in the mind of a young child, it feels very real. They will do whatever it takes to gain back the attention they’ve lost. Sometimes that means acting like a baby. Sometimes it means becoming rude and hostile towards their parent or parents. Sometimes it means acting out on the baby. We will for sure give a young child undivided attention if they act out in a way that demands we stop everything and talk to them. Even if it’s negative, it’s better than nothing.
One thing I often suggest to parents who have recently had a second or third child, is to try and arrange one on one time with their older child where they don’t have to always compete for time and attention with the new baby. If one parent can stay home with the baby, take the older one with you to do an errand or go for a bike ride or spend an hour together in the park. Do something that sends the message: “You’re the most important person to me right now.” They’re less likely to seek the attention they want, in inappropriate ways.