Fear of Strangers

Around 5 or 6 months of age, many babies begin to develop a fear of strangers. This fear tends to peak in intensity between 8 and 10 months and then gradually diminishes by around 15 or 16 months. However, some toddlers remain somewhat afraid of strangers and some may appear shy all the way through childhood. The amount of fear of strangers that a baby or child experiences depends mostly on that youngster’s genes. A child with loving parents and patient caretakers can be very fearful of strangers just because he or she is a fearful child in general. On the other hand, a child may be extremely friendly to everyone even during the peak “stranger anxiety” phase simply because he or she has inherited an extroverted, people-loving, confident nature.

Stranger Anxiety
Many psychologists see “stranger anxiety” as a positive developmental stage in infants. It indicates that the baby can distinguish between primary caregivers like Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, Nanny and so on – and actual strangers or non-family members. This is an important skill for intimate bonding later on. The ability to really care who hugs you is healthy and a precursor for strong intimate relationships in adulthood. However, a baby needn’t demonstrate terror of strangers in order to indicate his ability to distinguish loved ones from strangers; showing a preference for loved ones is enough of an indication that Baby knows the difference. If your baby cries hard when being handed over to a stranger, however, try to see it as a positive sign, even though it is temporarily upsetting for that stranger.

Sometimes the “stranger” is Grandma or Grandpa. If the baby doesn’t see relatives on a regular basis, he or she may consider these people to be strangers. This can be insulting or hurtful for relatives. However, your job is to do what is best for the baby – not for the adult. Therefore, don’t force an upset baby to stay in the arms of a stranger just to try to make the stranger feel better. Rather, take the baby back to your own arms and tell the other person, “Baby likes to look at you from here – he’s very attached to Mommy right now. In a few months he’ll be asking for YOU to pick him up!” If the other person doesn’t like this reality, don’t worry – he or she will get over it eventually. Meanwhile, you have taught your baby that you will respond to his or her cries and meet his or her needs. This helps the baby develop trust in the environment. When the baby has lots of trust, he or she will have an easier time trusting people appropriately.

Just the Right Amount of Fear
As the baby grows, you will want him to be appropriately fearful of strangers. In other words, you don’t want your preschooler running up to strange men in the park and playing with them. You want them to feel appropriate levels of comfort with known people and appropriate levels of discomfort with unknown people. It can be tricky to teach children to have “just the right amount” of fear and not to have excessive, paranoid or insecure feelings that make them uncomfortable all the time. Here are some tips on how to “stranger proof” your child without terrorizing him or her:

  • tell your child that most adults are very nice and that it is safe to say “hello” to people who say “hello” to them. However, tell them that they don’t need to talk to adults who they don’t know beyond returning a greeting.
  • tell your child to come straight to you or their caregiver if an adult seems to want to talk to them. Just tell them that you or the caregiver needs to meet the adult first.
  • tell your child never to go anywhere with an adult they don’t know but DO NOT tell them about how adults can hurt and kill children and so on. Instead, provide adequate supervision for your very young child; do not leave small children out of your sight for even a moment.
  • when your child is a little older and is ready to go to school, explain that adults don’t need to talk to children and if an adult tries to talk to them, they should not answer, but instead quickly get themselves to a safe adult (one they know!).

As stated earlier, some children are afraid of strangers because they have a fearful nature. They just don’t like meeting new people. When introduced to an adult by their parents, they hide behind Mom’s skirt and suck their thumb (if they’re little) or stare silently (if they’re older). If your child is like this, you might try a treatment of Bach Flower Therapy. The remedies “Mimulus” and “Cerato” can be helpful. A Bach Flower Practitioner can recommend a specific mixture of remedies best suited for your child. These harmless preparations can help ease fear of people out of the child’s system over time. Social skills groups can also build up a skill repetoire that helps children feel more confident in social situations. If the fear is interfering with the child’s life, a trip to a child psychologist can help reduce anxiety and build healthy coping patterns that will serve the child well throughout life.

Helping Children Deal with Rejection

All people get rejected. A newborn can be rejected by her siblings or, in some cases, even by a parent. A toddler can be rejected by older children who don’t want to play with him or by the kids at playgroup. Children and teenagers face rejection by peers, cousins, teachers and temporarily angry parents. Adults routinely experience rejection including the experience of job rejection, social rejection (unfriendly faces on the street, at a meeting or at the “tea”) and personal rejection (as when oneself or one’s child is not invited to a gathering or one’s help is not wanted on a particular committee).

Although rejection is a normal, common experience, it still hurts. Getting a paper cut is also a normal, common experience, but this does nothing to soften the individual sting. The hurt of rejection is far from imaginary. The brain actually responds to rejection in the exact same way it responds to pain from physical injury or assault: social rejection causes increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, which is linked to the pain response. Brain researchers conclude that the brain considers social rejection to be an injury. Human experience verifies that rejection does indeed hurt.

The Costs of Rejection
Rejection is so painful, in fact, that it can dramatically affect life decisions and choices. When children experience constant rejection at school from teachers or peers, they make decisions that will help them prevent that kind of pain in the future. They can grow up and consciously avoid the type of people who are similar to the teachers or principals who hurt them in their youth. A rejecting peer group acts naively and innocently in selecting out like-minded companions for pleasant socializing; students generally have no idea that they can negatively affect their peers for a lifetime just because they were—in their immature youth—socially unkind. Sometimes children and teens select “bad” friends because these are the only people who will show them warmth and acceptance. When “good” kids reject others, they can inadvertently be the stimulus for a child’s emotional and spiritual decline.

Adults, too, experience the cost of rejection. They, too, will adjust their life courses according to the level of social acceptance or rejection that they experience. People will move out neighborhoods where they feel they have been snubbed, ignored or otherwise rejected. Rejection can aggravate other pre-existing vulnerabilities. For example, people may become depressed, anxious or physically ill as a result of the rejection they feel.

Living with Rejection
The destructive consequences of rejection should not be minimized. Rather, they should be acknowledged and addressed at home and at school. Parents and teachers are the ones to instruct youngsters on correct social behavior and to discipline rejecting behaviors in the same way they would discipline a child who physically attacks another. After all, the consequences of a “social attack” are just as serious, and sometimes more serious than those of a physical assault.

At the same time, we must all remind ourselves that we impact on everyone we deal with. This is hard because we are all wrapped up in our own lives, our own circle of friends and our own worries. However, heightening our awareness that we are strongly connected to the life journey of others may help us to work on developing and maintaining warm social skills (i.e a welcoming smile, a pleasant greeting to strangers and so on).

When we experience rejection ourselves, we can help clear the feeling most rapidly by accepting it without judgment. This is something we can do to help our children’s feelings of rejection as well. Instead of trying to talk ourselves or them out of feelings, we acknowledge to ourselves (or to our children) that indeed, rejection hurts. Just as we need to rest a sore ankle after we have twisted it, we need to rest an aching heart before we go on with our day. Treating OURSELVES with kindness, warmth and loving care (and showing our children how to do the same) helps to rapidly heal the wounds of rejection.

When Teens Reject Their Parent’s Values

During the teen years, a person makes the transition out of childhood and into adulthood. It is a journey from dependence to independence – one that involves are many changes in every area: physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and socially. During these years, teens question their identity, what they believe in, and their purpose in life. In short, they are people on a path of discovery who are trying to make sense of themselves and how they fit into the world.

During this process, it is common for teens and parents to experience some degree of conflict. Teens begin to recognize that their parents are not perfect and they make mistakes. Indeed, adolescents begin to focus their attention on the flaws in their parents. Many times teens will argue with a parent and say, “well if you do it then why can’t I?” They are constantly scrutinizing their parents’ actions; their friends’ opinions and acceptance are now more important than what their parents say or think. When teens are growing and learning more about who they are they often go through a period of rejecting their parents values – including those concerning religion and society. This is actually a very normal phenomenon. Teens are at a point where they are challenging what they have been taught so far.

Why Do Teens Not Always Believe What Their Parents Believe?

  • It is a normal part of the teen years to question parents especially kids with a strong personality
  • Sometimes a teen may have an undiagnosed problem such as a learning disability which may cause him to feel inadequate and not live up to expectation of elders – whether that refers to parents or teachers
  • Many times teens succumb to peer pressure, going with what their friends believe (even though their parents are right) in order to gain social acceptance
  • If a death or other tragedy occurs, or there is serious illness or financial burden within the family a teen may question the understanding they had of God when they were younger and more naive
  •  Many times teens will view their parents as hypocritical

Tips for Parents
Here are some tips parents should know:

  • Parents should always stay strong in what they believe. Teens tend to appreciate what their parents stand for later on in life when they mature and in the end they will thank you for being consistent
  • Practice what you preach. Teens resent when they see parents who have double standards
  • Love you teen unconditionally – even when they seem to be rebelling they desperately need your love
  • Guide them without telling them what to do
  • Be sure to keep your communication positive – limit criticism, punishment and other bad-feeling interventions

When teens rebel and act out against their parents’ ideals it is quite common for parents to think that their parenting skills are inadequate and that they have somehow failed as parents. Questions such as “why is this happening?” or “where did we go wrong?” can disturb their peace of mind. Parent need to know that raising teenagers is a tough job for everyone. If their teens are uncooperative, it’s more likely to be a developmental issue rather than a personal assault; it’s the child’s stage of life that is to blame. Parents can help themselves by building a support system – talking to other parents of teens, attending parenting classes for this age group and staying in close touch with their children’s teachers. Keeping lines of communication with their children open will make it easier for parents to understand what their teens are going through. Remaining calm and non-reactive will encourage open communication. In this way, parents can help to minimize their teenager’s  rebellious tendencies and maximize their own ability to help their youngster negotiate the challenges of adolescence.

Teen Peer Pressure

As kids grow up and reach their teen years their peer relationships are one of the most important aspects of their lives. The social groups that teens attach themselves to are signals to other peers of who they are and what their values are. Others judge them based on their social group. Teens form their own little worlds – small groups of like-minded friends. They have a specific dialect, distinct way of dressing and do similar activities. They think that adults, particularly parents, don’t know what’s going on and “don’t get them.” There is a lot of pressure for teens to fit in and be cool. Many times teens will do something that they know is wrong just to appear cool and be accepted by others. Teens who have low self esteem or lack confidence and those who lack real friendships and are therefore lonely and depressed, are more likely to give into peer pressure.

Peer pressure can sometimes be good. For example, a friend might be able to convince another friend not to get into a car when the person has been drinking. However, negative peer pressure is very common amongst teens because of the need to be part of a group and also because of their natural curiosity to try out new things.

What’s Your Teen Being Pressured Into?
Peers can pressure each other into all sorts of dangerous, unhealthy, immoral and/or illegal activities. Here are some of the more common pressure points:

  • Smoking can be tried as early as 13 years old
  • Having too much alcohol
  • Trying drugs
  • Having sex before they are ready
  • Shoplifting
  • Pushing off school work to have fun or to party
  • Giving up extracurricular activities
  • Allowing friends to cheat off them
  • Bullying others

How Parents can Help

  • Talk to your teen. Tell them that you respect their friends and understand that they can make mistakes just like you do. If you identify problems with the friends, explain your concerns clearly.
  • Talk to other parents and exchange ideas and work together to help keep your teens safe
  • Help your teen come up with strategies on how to say no and fight peer pressure using techniques such as blaming it on parents, say no and leaving, suggesting other “cool” ideas and so on. Brainstorm with your teen. Ask them if they’ve seen other kids resisting social pressure. How did they do it?
  • Teach your teen to be accountable for what he did wrong. Even though friends can sometimes be wrong also your teen must know that he is always responsible for his actions
  • Invite your teen’s friends over and get to know them. Your teen might not admit it but he/she feels good when parents show that they approve of their friends and that they can relate to them

Keep Calm
It is normal for teens to feel like they are being judged so when you speak to them make sure your tone is non-threatening but rather understanding and calm. If they see you getting upset then they will also. Try to relate to them by telling them issues you faced as a teen. An open line of communication is one of the most valuable things you can offer your teen. Do not force them to talk but let them know that you are always there when they need you. As teens grow up and explore who they are, this time period will be a positive experience for them. Your teen will probably be involved in some form of negative peer pressure at some point but with the help of your expert parenting skills, they’ll be just fine!

Anxious and Stressed Teens

Anxiety is an unsettled, restless, uncomfortable state of mind that can affect people of all ages. Anxious teens may feel worried, stressed or panicky and can experience anxious feelings occasionally or frequently, mildly or intensely. Teenagers who have a lot of anxiety – the kind that interrupts their sleep, interferes with their functioning or causes them intense stress – should be seen by a mental health professional for assessment. Anxious feelings range all the way from normal levels of stress and worry that most people experience, all the way to symptoms of bona fida anxiety disorders – it takes a professional to determine what is going on when anxious feelings are anything more than minor and occasional.

What Triggers Teen Anxiety?
The teenage years are times of high stress, hard decisions and strong emotions. Teen anxiety can be triggered by many events in the teen’s life such as a broken relationship, a parental divorce or academic pressure in school. In addition, teenagers are living in a fast-paced, constantly changing world which creates its own pressure – there is no time to be still and settle in. Social pressures are particularly intense for this age group: kids worry about fitting in, feeling accepted, developing relationships, handling peer pressure and more.

What Parents can Do to Help?
Parents can be part of the problem or part of the solution. For instance, parents can put excessive pressure on teenagers by being too disapproving, too critical or too punitive. On the other hand, they can help relieve stress by being both accepting and gently guiding. They can offer encouragement, praise and validation, keeping the parent-child relationship primarily positive in the ideal 90-10 ratio that is healthiest for this age group (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe for details about building a positive relationship with teenagers). Empathetic listening, ready humor and general acceptance go a long way to helping teens feel confident and emotionally secure.

Moreover, parents can guide teens toward activities that provide stress relief such as sports, drama clubs, volunteer work, and even part-time jobs. Parents can also encourage downtime, family fun (board games, outings, hobbies) and even cooking! A short vacation or even a few hours out of the house for some one-on-one quality time can often work wonders with an adolescent. Parents can even play some relaxing music in the house to help set a calm mood. Of course, reducing family stress (no yelling, fighting, marital battles, etc.) will also help reduce teen anxiety. If parents are experiencing stress of their own, they shouldn’t share it with their teens but rather with other supportive adults.

Warning Signs
There is a difference, however, between normal levels of worry and stress and levels that would be best treated with professional help. If a parent notices the following symptoms of anxiety, he or she should discuss them with a doctor and/or ask for a referral for to a  mental health professional (preferably and adolescent specialist) for assessment:

  • Inability to follow through with usual routines  (like getting to class on time, doing homework, doing one’s household chores, keeping one’s room cleaned, grooming oneself properly and so on)
  • Compulsive thoughts (inability to stop thinking about/worrying out loud about certain topics)
  • inability to make a decision without excessive input from others
  • Peculiar habits (i.e. arranging things, checking things, excessive washing, lengthy praying, repeating words or phrases, needing excessive rituals, refusing to touch certain things, wearing gloves inappropriately, and any other strange behavior
  • Agitated behavior (shaking, inability to settle down, stay still, sleep)
  • Disturbed sleep patterns (insomnia, early waking, nightmares)
  • Strange or excessive fears or worries
  • Refusal to go certain places (like malls or parties) or be with certain people or engage in age-appropriate social activities due to anxious feelings
  • Chronic unhappy or irritable mood
  • Addictive behavior (may stem from anxiety)
  • Self-harm such as cutting oneself, picking at one’s skin (may stem from anxiety)
Anxiety Disorders
There are several different types of anxiety disorders, all of which are thought to have biological roots. GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) is a state of chronic worry about everything and anything. Panic Disorder is a focused type of anxiety that may involve panic attacks with or without fear of leaving home unattended. Simple Phobia can involve any intense fear of any one thing like fear of needles or heights or flying. Social Phobia is a type of anxiety that involves fear of being judged negatively by others. PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is an anxiety disorder that is triggered by experiencing or witnessed a life-threatening event. OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) can occur spontaneously or after a strep infection and involves anxious thoughts and compulsive rituals. Often teens with anxiety have other disorders as well – depression, ADHD, eating disorders and addictive disorders among others. Fortunately, all anxiety disorders respond well to treatment. Today there are many treatments besides medication that are quite effective – therapies, stress-management training, meditation-based interventions, alternative treatments and more. The sooner you get help for your anxious teen, the sooner your teen will enjoy peace of mind.

When Your Child Steals

Although parents are horrified to find that their teen has stolen, they should understand that this behavior does not always mark the beginning of a lifelong career in thievery. Rather, teen “thieves” are very often youngsters who are and will be very normal and responsible grown-up citizens.

Some teens steal from stores. “Shoplifting” is sometimes done on a dare. Immaturity and social pressure can result in this sort of stealing. Usually being caught puts a quick end to the short career of this kind of thief.

Shoplifting can also be committed by youths who are acting out stress or emotional problems. These kids subconsciously want to be caught in order to be able to bring their pain to the surface where it can be helped at last. Psychotherapy for shoplifting will often reveal a myriad of teen problems and angst. When all is addressed, the stealing stops.

Some kids steal from their parents. They help themselves to cash or cards, taken on the sly without permission. They spend it, naively hoping not to be discovered. This kind of thief is often a child who wants more than her parents are giving. Peer pressure, feelings of insecurity and deprivation may motivate this kind of stealing. Kids often don’t know how bank statements work and don’t realize that they will be discovered in short order. They may deny their role in unexplained purchases, thinking that their parents can be fooled. They may blame cash theft on household help. They may explain their new possessions as “gifts” from friends or prizes won. Sometimes family counseling can help such “thieves.” Sometimes parents really are too withholding, failing to understand the needs of their youngsters. Sometimes kids just need to get a job and more financial freedom coupled with less parental control. Family counseling can often straighten out what is crooked in such stealing.

Healing Teenage Theft
Counseling is always helpful in the case of youthful stealing. Compassionate parents who truly want to understand are the most help. They can help get to the underlying issues and address them. Stealing is, for most teenagers, a symptom of some other issue that needs attention. For instance, some kids who are going through family divorce become temporary thieves. They really need a chance to do therapy and work out their pain. Sometimes, kids with academic problems get involved with the wrong crowd and end up engaging in bad behavior of all kinds, including stealing. Sometimes troubled kids steal in order to pay for drugs they are using to numb their psychic pain.

However, whether the cause is social, interpersonal, intrapersonal, trauma or stress, the thief always needs help and healing. Harsh treatment tends to make the problem worse, as does drama and scare tactics. Yelling at a teenage thief does nothing positive towards the problem and may even worsen it.

Nonetheless, all stealing must also be met with negative consequences of some kind, whether that involves paying back the loss, community work, some sort of loss of privileges or whatever. The negative consequence teaches the youngster that there is a cost for anti-social behavior. The cost can be jail, of course, if the youngster has stolen outside of his home. However, there needs to be “introductory” consequences on the homefront, even if parents understand their troubled child and engage in family counseling or other healing strategies.

When teens see that their families really love them and want to help, they have the best chance of recovering from their stealing behaviors. If your teen is stealing, seek professional guidance in order to develop a plan of real healing and recovery.

Parenting Your Difficult Child

The difficult child has been called by many names. Sometimes he (we’ll call him “he” in this article, but many difficult children are “she”) is called “the spirited child,” sometimes “the challenging child” and sometimes “the sensitive child.” Whatever we call this youngster, the name always points to one common denominator: this child is not easy to parent.

The difficult child has traits that make him challenging like rigidity, reactivity and anger. He may be stubborn, unreasonable, and volatile. He may be dishonest. Sometimes the difficult child is fussy about everything – food, clothes, activities. He may be so easily bored that his parents feel like they must program every minute of his day. The difficult child may be sweet as pie at school and only difficult at home or may be difficult in both locations. Occasionally, a child is only difficult at school. Often the difficult child has combustive relationships with siblings; often, he has social challenges outside of the home.

What Makes  Children Difficult?
The difficult child inherits traits that create a complex, difficult personality. Difficulty with change, anxiety, low mood, irritability, impulsivity, hyperactivity, short attention span and so on are all governed by genes. Parents don’t create a difficult child, even with poor parenting. A child with great genes will still be fairly well-adjusted even if the parents lack top notch parenting skills. A child with “difficult” genes, will still be difficult even if his parents win the award for “Parents of the Year.”

What can be Done for the Difficult Child?
Although parenting alone can’t remove the difficult nature of a child, good parenting can help a difficult child manage better and it can help him avoid being hurt by the rejection of his parents. Good parenting can help the difficult child develop a sense of inner security that will help him deal better with life’s challenges. Therefore, parents of difficult kids should really read those parenting books, join forums, take classes and so on.

Bach Flower Remedies can be very helpful in actually changing the difficult nature of a child. These harmless vibrational remedies help with individual traits. There are Bach Flower Remedies for explosive behavior, grumpy mood, jealousy, panic, depression, impulsivity and whatever other problematic trait a person has. Taking the remedies off and on over the developmental years can help ease difficult traits out of a child’s system. The term for this is epigenetic healing. A consultation with a Bach Flower Practitioner can get you started on this path. You can find more information on Bach Flower Therapy online, in books, and throughout this site.

Parents of difficult kids suffer greatly. Their children sometimes cause them embarrassment and shame. They provoke tremendous frustration, disappointment and hurt. Parents must be careful not to blame themselves for having a challenging child. Tending to one’s marriage, one’s social life, one’s creativity and leisure are all important. Taking good care of oneself helps one take good care of a difficult child.

Helping Your Children Adjust to a New Baby in the House

How exciting! A new baby will soon claim his or her place in the family. Many children are thrilled at the idea. Only the idea. The reality of a new baby may affect them differently. New babies bring tired mommies and peanut-butter dinners. New babies makes lots of noise and demand tons of attention. What is the best way to help toddlers and pre-schoolers adapt to the change?

Helping the Little Ones Adjust
Little children who have only recently left their own “babyhoods” behind benefit from a gradual stepping down strategy. These guys used to be the ones who everyone wanted to hold and cuddle, play with and smother with kisses. Now they have to take a back seat to the new comer. Adding insult to injury, they are often rudely ousted from the protective shelter of babyhood into the cold, crueler world of childhood: “You’re a big boy now,” parents will tell them. “You’re Mommy’s helper.” Children of two, three, four and even five, are actually not all that big. Fifteen is big. Fifteen is sometimes taller than you are, but toddlers and pre-schoolers are still quite small. They are small in size and small emotionally — they are still babies.

Respecting the babyish quality of this young group helps little ones make a much better adjustment to the newborn. Call everyone under 6 “my baby.” If all your kids are under 6, you can greet them this way, “How are all my babies this morning?” “Did all my babies have a good sleep?” If one of these “babies” protests that she is not a baby, she is a big girl, then go with it. As long as the child promotes herself then she’s ready to move out of her babyhood. However, when the child is still 5 years old or less, you can offer to extend the pampered years a bit longer by correcting her: “O.K. You’re not a baby, but you’re not a big girl either. You’re my little girl. My sweet little girl.” Now you may be wondering why the mother would want to make a self-defining “big girl” into a “sweet little girl.” The reason is this: there is a very short period in life in which we can be coddled, protected and nurtured – completely taken care of. When we are not rushed through that tiny window of time, all of our needs for infantile nurturing will be met appropriately. If we can’t be little when we really are little, then we may end up being inappropriately little when we’re actually big. Have you ever seen an 8 year-old competing for attention with a baby? Have you ever seen a grown man or woman do the same? Sometimes teenagers insist that other people take care of them: wake them up, stay at home with them, plan their schedules and so on. Wouldn’t it be better for older children and people to be independent? Independence comes when all of our dependency needs are met. The time for dependence (and “littleness”) is in the first five years of life.

No Promotions
Therefore, let the little children in the family remain little, even when you bring home an even littler one. This is not the time to suddenly wean a child. This is not the time to take a child who was in your bed out of it. If at all possible, let some months go by before you make any changes in the lifestyle of the other little people. If a new baby will be born at just the time that a child will first start playgroup, try to have that child go to camp or a children’s program before the birth. If a child will be moving out of a crib, either wait a few months after the birth or change the bed before the birth. Anyone who is still eating baby food, sucking on pacifiers or wearing diapers, can still do so for some months after the birth. When life with the new baby has become routine again, any change that is needed can be addressed.

Enhance Group Bonding
In order to reduce jealous feelings, it’s helpful to adopt an inclusive “we” mentality regarding the baby. Instead of “I have to feed the baby now” it can be “We have to feed the baby now. Let’s go to the living room.” “We have to get the baby dressed—let’s find his undershirt.” This technique helps the children bond with the baby and with the family unit. Everyone is in this together.

In order to reduce competition, never blame the baby for having to neglect another child. Instead of “I can’t play with you right now because I have to take care of the baby” try “Let’s take care of the baby so we can sit down together and play.” Don’t mention the baby as the reason another child can’t have what she wants. Instead of “I was up with the baby all night and I’m too tired now to go to the zoo” just try, “We can’t go to the zoo today. We’ll go later this week.” Instead of “I can’t feed you until I finish feeding the baby,” just try “I’ll make your lunch soon.”

Finally, don’t leave the baby at home in order to have quality time with another child. This gives the older ones the impression that there is not enough love to go around and that everybody has to have a “turn.” It also makes older ones insecure, knowing that you are willing to leave the baby behind — it triggers their own abandonment fears. Security is increased when young children know their parents will bring the baby too; family outings include the baby.

These strategies can help little children have a smoother adjustment to the new baby. Keep in mind, however, that the individual nature of a child also plays a major role in his or her adjustment to change in general and to new siblings in particular. Some kids will just find it harder. Be gentle with yourself as a parent and gentle with the kids too. And don’t worry: soon the new baby will be the old baby and there will be other issues to address!