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Some parents, while trying to make the older child feel better, can make matters worse, says Jackie Rosenberg, a Sherman Oaks, Calif., child-development specialist who has been teaching baby classes to new and second-time moms since 1982. The most common mistake is to emphasize how “big” the older child is. “With all the fuss and talk about the baby, older kids are quick to figure that being big is not such a great deal,” she says. “That’s when they go back to bottles, diapers and baby talk.”
Rosenberg says that you can minimize regression by downplaying the big and little. For example, instead of your saying, “Johnny is so lucky to have a big sister like you,” just say “a sister like you.” And know that while regression can be frustrating, it is normal. Most child-care experts advise letting the child slide until she feels secure enough to grow up again.
Your older child’s age and temperament also have a lot to do with her reaction. While my older daughter was more verbal and, well, theatrical, other children may act out their resentment physically. When Katie Shreve of Laguna Niguel, Calif., brought her daughter Kendra home to big brother Donovan, who was a little over 2, the first month went well, but then he protested. “Whenever I would start to nurse,” Shreve says, “he would ram himself into us or stand on the back of the couch and jump
on us.” And if she leaned over while holding the baby in a front carrier, her son would grab the baby’s hair and pull it. “For a while, I couldn’t leave them alone together, but eventually she won him over,” she says.
Spacing pros and cons
Notions of ideal birth spacing between children vary, and nature doesn’t always cooperate. While a firstborn under the age of 2 won’t be old enough to realize what he’s missing when a sibling arrives, most experts advise putting two or more years between children, with three years being ideal. “It’s always easier if they’re at least two years apart,” Brazelton says. “Any closer, and it’s almost impossible not to push the older child to grow up too soon.”
If the siblings are more than four years apart, they’re less likely to be friends, says Lansky. But parents get more of a breather between babies, and paying for college may be easier because payments are spread out.
Besides spacing and the impact on an older child, parents contemplating another child should consider energy, space and costs. Many new moms, who know how much time and energy one child requires, rightly worry how they will ever manage two. “No mother ever felt she had given enough,” Brazelton says as consolation. “It’s so easy to make these little people and so hard to live up to all their needs later in life.”