Growing up as an only child, I firmly believed that a sibling was the single greatest gift any parents could ever give their kid. So you can imagine my surprise when, years later, my daughter was decidedly less than thrilled to be "gifted" with her younger brother. At 4 years old, I assumed she'd be ready to welcome another member of the family, but it turns out a child's sibling-readiness level depends on more than age. So what are some signs your child isn't ready for a sibling?
Of course, you can't be expected to cater your family planning schedule to the apparent whims of a toddler, but it's worth figuring out where your child stands on the idea before your next baby's arrival. Even if you don't delay your pregnancy, you'll at least be able to work on preparing your older kid for the changes ahead.
"The question of having more children should truly be founded in the stability and happiness of the current state of affairs," Dr. Alex Dimitriu, M.D., a California-based psychiatrist and founder of Menlo Park Psychiatry & Sleep Medicine, tells Romper.
"If everyone is happy, learning, and interacting well, then truly it is a decision centered on desire to do so. On the other hand, if issues already exist, the opposite may be true."
Dr. Dimitriu uses the "climbing analogy" to illustrate his point, explaining that rock climbers are taught to find three points of contact before moving to a new point.
"There should ideally be stability before something new, including more children, is undertaken," he explains.
That stability is rooted in the health and well-being of your child, so it's important to make sure that their emotional needs are being met as you grow your family. Looking at their behavior and habits for clues about how they feel is a great place to start. Are any of the following things true for your kid?
1. They're still sleeping in your bed
If you co-slept with your first baby (whether intentionally or unintentionally) and they haven't left your bed yet, figuring out how to fit the next baby into the sleep equation can turn into a potentially unsafe game of human bedtime Jenga. In fact, experts warn against infants and older children sharing a bed, according to an NPR report, as this increases the risk of SIDS for the newborn. And you certainly don't want to wait until little brother or sister comes along to kick your other kid out of bed, unless you want to deal with years of resentment over the displacement. Best to get the "big kid bed" issue resolved well ahead of time.
2. They're still breastfeeding
Unless the idea of tandem nursing is appealing to you (which is perfectly fine, naturally, but definitely not for everyone), it's in your best interest to wean your older child before you get pregnant again, if possible. Or, as an article on Family Education put it:
"Otherwise, your child may still remember breastfeeding, and whenever you nurse the baby, she'll feel, 'Hey, that's mine!'"
3. They don't understand how boring babies are
Sometimes, parents can be partially to blame for this one. And while it's completely understandable that you might get a little carried away when you're talking up the new baby to your older kid, you'll be sorry later (like when you have to explain for the millionth time that babies are too little for Legos, the playground slide, or ice cream cones). Make sure you paint a somewhat realistic picture, recommended Dr. Mandi Silverman, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, in an article on the Institute's website.
“They can’t do things on their own. You know, they can’t feed themselves. They need somebody to change their diapers. They may be up at night. They cry. It can be loud. It can be annoying,” said Dr. Silverman.
At the same time, reassure your child: You'll still be able to take care of him and the baby at the same time; you'll get the baby to quiet down at night so everybody can sleep, etc.
4. They're not used to spending time away from you
Here's something I learned when my second child was born: If your kid has never spent a night away from you (a sleepover at Grandma's, etc.), don't wait until you're in the hospital giving birth to try this lengthier separation out. That's what I did, and let's just say this did not do much to endear my newborn son to his big sister. Also, their grandmother remains traumatized to this day.
5. They tell you they don't want a little brother or sister
As mentioned above, you don't necessarily have to go back on birth control because your toddler says they straight-up don't want a sibling... but it is important to listen.
"It is always essential to let children be heard, and feel validated," says Dr. Dimitriu. "However, assuming all things are going well, a three year old may not be able to fully appreciate the life-long benefits, and down sides, of living with a sibling."
In other words, there's a reason why we don't let three year olds call the shots. That said, if your intuition tells you that your kid really could benefit from some extra time as an only, it could be worth reconsidering your timeline. Either way, I know from experience that even initially reluctant kids eventually accept their younger siblings. (Most of the time, anyway.)