A Highly Sensitive Child dealing with a new baby

On March the 28th of last year, our second son joined our family. A beautiful, strong, and extremely pleasant baby boy. Alexander is now a little over 9 months old. Although he’s a handful, he is such a joy to be around. He smiles at everyone and everything. He smiles so much, he even does it when he’s crying. Hard to believe but true! He’s incredibly active, will not sit down to play with a toy for 20 seconds at a time; he will not sit through two pages of a baby book; he gets his mouth on anything he can get a hold of. He will throw and lunge himself forward, backward and sideways, no matter where he is or what is in front of him. He doesn’t hurt himself easily, as though his pain threshold was much higher than what I know. His strength is beautiful, and it is exhausting. Also, he is nothing like his older brother.

Luca, being a highly sensitive child since he was born, is very careful about his things. He is neat and clean. He will sit down for hours at a time looking through his books or playing with his toys. He is cautious, especially about all things physical. The slightest fall can hurt him and leave him crying inconsolably. His every move seems to be calculated. He knows what he wants, and knows what he doesn’t want. A little over nine months later, he still cannot accept the presence of his little brother.

When I was pregnant with Alex, I knew a new baby would be really difficult for Luca to deal with. I knew that there would be some jealousy, some resentment, some acting out, and some regression. And I also assumed that it would pass a few months after the baby came. But then the baby came, and as the time passed, things did not get better in the slightest. Sometimes I even felt like they might be getting worse.

The situation has been frustrating to say the least. Not only does it make me sad that my dream of having two boys who adore each other hasn’t come true yet, but it also makes it all the more difficult to go about my days. A baby comes with a laundry list of tasks that just can’t wait. I have to feed him when he’s hungry, I have to change him when he poops, I have to bathe him at night, I have to prepare baby food, I have to hold him when he’s crying, and the list goes on. And having a highly sensitive child scream every time I have to do one of these things, begging me to sit with him, or play with him, or read to him, or just plain ordering me not to do these things, just makes me tired and mad. Obviously, despite being tempted to, I can’t just yell back. I have to be sensitive about his needs and explain to him every time that these are things I need to do, that the baby can’t take care of himself, and that it would be great if he was patient with me or maybe even helped me with his little brother. Alas, none of it has worked.

What’s more, almost every day he wakes up in the morning and looks incredibly surprised and disappointed that the baby is still around. I don’t know if he chooses to forget that we’ve had a baby, or thinks that it might have all been a bad dream, or maybe that there is hope that we might choose to give him away one of these days. He screams if I walk into his room carrying the baby and asks me to leave. He hates it when I ask the baby where his big brother is or if he can say “Luca”. And Lord help us if the baby should do something cute! Reacting to that would start a war!

I do understand how tough the situation is on an older sibling, let alone a highly sensitive older sibling. I am both of those, and although I don’t remember being jealous of my baby sister when I was three, I can certainly empathize.

Desperate for answers and solutions, I got online and started my research, using every possible keyword that might bring in results. I know the net is filled with advice and tips on how to help an older sibling cope with a new baby, but to my surprise, I couldn’t find anything specifically for highly sensitive children. I tried the reference websites and books I usually go to, the discussion boards I usually visit, and Google of course which normally has answers to all of my questions. But not this time.

Sure, I prepared Luca for the arrival of his baby brother way before he was born. Every day we talked about what would be coming. We read loads of stories about other older brothers and sisters and how they dealt with a new baby in the house. We looked through his own baby pictures while I told him stories about him as a baby. When Alex was born, thoughtful as he is, he brought wonderful presents with him just for his big brother. I always make sure I dedicate some alone time for me and Luca, completely baby-free. I always tell him how much I love him. I have tried to involve Luca by asking for help with baby’s meal-time or bath-time, with no results so far. All the advice I found online on the topic, I have followed. And as far as Highly Sensitive Children are concerned, the only thing I did find was that it would just take these kids more time to get used to the new situation. The topic was treated just like any new situation; new people, new house, new school… New baby! So basically, do what you would normally do with any child, but expect it to take more time with a highly sensitive one. How much more time? I wish I knew.

I have been giving this issue a lot of thought. I have watched Luca with the baby. I have listened to the things he’s said about the baby. I have seen him try to cope with the baby’s presence. And I have to say that sometimes, I do see a ray of light. On some occasions, although a little too rare for my taste, I see the love that Luca has for his baby brother, a love that I didn’t think was there yet. To my delight, I have caught Luca holding Alex’s hand, singing him a song, teaching him how to play with a certain toy, gently patting his head while gazing into his eyes. I have seen him stick up for his brother by snatching back his toys from other curious children while stating that those belonged to “my brother”. On one occasion, he surprised us when he took a break from playing ball with Dad to move his brother’s stroller away from the driveway while explaining to him that a car might drive up and not see him there.

So all things considered, one might say that the situation is not all that bad, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and that the day will come when my two boys will put their differences aside and learn to get along. I don’t know how long it will take, but at least I know that when it really matters, Luca has shown his love and affection for the baby. And maybe that’s why I couldn’t find my answers online. Maybe there is no tailored advice for those who are highly sensitive. Maybe it really is just a matter of time.

Having a conversation

Baby tickling his brother

Holding hands

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22 thoughts on “A Highly Sensitive Child dealing with a new baby

  1. wendy

    I have been in a similar situation but with different details. Although my husband and I incorporate parenting technique from several different approaches, we have found that also incorporating some recommendations from The Nurtured Heart Approach helps feed our daughter (also “highly-sensitive”) in a way that helps facilitate a happier, more calm and accepting child. If you’re not familiar with this approach and would like a synopsis, I am happy to provide you with that info.

    Reply
    1. Leilaboukarim Post author

      I would actually love more information Wendy, if anything, to try and help ease my son’s anxiety. I will also check out book on Amazon today. Thanks so much Wendy! Much appreciated!

      Reply
      1. wendy

        Here is a link to one Nurtured Heart’s coaches where I live, and if you click on “The Solution” you will see a 5 minute video to watch, which is fabulous! This is a VERY positive approach, and quite different from the traditional approaches. This approach helps us as parents learn how to feed our childrens’ need for our positive, loving energy. It’s all about acknowledging the good stuff our kids do…the stuff we normally just “expect” from them to do throughout the day. I’d love to hear how things go if you choose to learn more about this approach and try it. Best of luck! -wendy

        Reply
        1. Leilaboukarim Post author

          Wendy thank you so much for taking the time. The book isn’t available for Kindle, so I will definitely buy myself a copy the nest time I’m at the bookstore.

          As for the video, all I can say is… WOW! Scary! I watched it about an hour ago and I am still thinking back at the things I’ve said and done, my reactions to my son’s good and bad behavior, and I am seriously wondering I been more of a “Tigger” with regards to the bad. Although I try and make it a point to get really excited and give praise when he does something good, I wonder if I’ve been more reactive to him when he does something bad.

          This has given me a lot to think about. I look forward to reading the book. Thanks so much Wendy!

          Reply
          1. wendy

            Hi again! I sure hope you don’t beat yourself up over how you react….I’m certain we all have done the best we could do with the tools we had at those times. That’s why it’s so great to keep learning and trying new things. 🙂 That’s awesome you’re looking into this method, and I really hope you find success with it.

  2. Christy Garrett @ Uplifting Families

    I remember when my older son was born, he was totally different than my first child. In fact, I used to call him a touchy feely baby because he had to be touching another human being in order to be content for a long time. It is amazing how kids can be totally different. He was my more difficult child and still is today at the age of 13. He is a great kid but just loves to be op-positional and does things different, its just the way he is wired.

    I think it is normal to have some sibling rivalry.

    I remember when I was pregnant with my youngest, I wasn’t sure how he would get along with my older kids. There is a huge age gap between them. When we told them that we were pregnant, they were overjoyed and couldn’t wait to meet their new brother. They adjusted very well after he was born and they help with him alot. In fact, my two boys are fairly close and they enjoy playing with each other despite their age difference. I like to call them my two peas in a pod. My daughter is 17, my oldest son is 13, and my youngest is 2.5. I love their relationship with their baby brother.

    Reply
    1. Leilaboukarim Post author

      Hi Christy! Thanks so much for your comment. Your story and others I have heard this week reassure me that all this is normal, and that the open expression of jealousy by a sibling is in fact a healthy sign. I know things will get better eventually, but it does pain me to see my son so anxious about the situation, being highly sensitive as he is, and I just hope that he manages to accept his baby brother sooner rather than later.

      Thanks again for stopping by!

      Reply
    1. Leilaboukarim Post author

      Thank you so much Yetunde! Your comment means so much to me. The book Wendy mentioned is at the top of my reading list right now. After watching the video link that she also posted I haven’t been able to think of anything else!

      Thanks so much for taking the time… Have a great weekend!

      Reply
  3. kentuckygal50

    Everything comes in its own time. Our oldest used to be extremely hyper. At one doctor visit, between the time the nurse left the exam room and the doctor entered, our boy got on and off the exam table 20 times. But when he was allowed to hold his preemie baby sister when he was 6 he was stock still and cooing to her.

    I was so happy to read towards the end that you are seeing flashes of the love that Luca has for his brother. Both for them and for you as a parent.

    (from the group at vB)

    Reply
    1. Leilaboukarim Post author

      Luann, thank you so much for your comment. Having read your story and other similar stories this week, I am more confident now that this problem will resolve itself it its own time. It just pains me to see my son get so anxious about a situation he has no control over, being sensitive as he is.

      And it’s funny you should mention that about your son. My baby is extremely active and can be a little too aggressive for his brother’s taste. However when he has the chance to come into physical contact with Luca, he is ever so gentle. He approaches him like you would something sacred, with such love and tenderness, it’s surprising to see from someone with a character like his. And it’s beautiful!

      Thanks again for your lovely comment Luann!

      Reply
  4. Cheryl@OntheOldPath

    Leila, Your heart for your boys comes shining through this post. It is tough to parent through situations that don’t feel ‘normal.’ I come from a different place and experiences but still feel like I can relate to what you are saying. I too would like to suggest some place to look I found myself there after searching for answers for one of my boys. It is called brain highways my reasons for looking into it were not the norm that the sight suggests as I think many people come to brain highways for behavioural, or learning issues. However, some of the stuff you mentioned made me think of a lot of the parenting info they had us work through. Not sure how old your oldest is. One thing that helped us was there was a list of behaviours that are never evers. Like physically hurting, yelling, throws objects, slams doors but then there are other behaviours that children have that are coping mechanisms, that are there until the brain matures enough to handle things. In these instances the advice is to build into their structure to help them cope, and to lessen negative behaviour. My son had brain cancer and after surgery radiation and chemo he deals with many side effects. We would have him melting down over so many things. So my husband and I sat down and looked at a day and looked at the triggers we came up with strategies to help him make it through his day. Things aren’t perfect but we have come along way. The other thing that has helped me is looking at my own thought pattern. We often have a tonne of unproductive thoughts about ourselves and our children, the problem is our unconscious mind can process 11 million bits of information per second, while the conscious mind processes a mere 40. That means we send lots of primal cues—subconscious messages—to our kids. Once learning that it has helped me reframe a lot of my thoughts. An article that discusses this further can be found at http://www.thecortexparent.com/parenting-with-a-new-brain-part-1/ Sorry this is long but if I can explain anything further please let me know.

    Reply
    1. Leilaboukarim Post author

      Cheryl, I can’t thank you enough for your long comment! Luckily my four-year-old is extremely gentle and has never shown any aggressive behavior, even towards his brother.He expresses himself through words, and sometimes by screaming or acting out, but nothing really serious or unexpected. The only thing that worries me about him is that I know he’s hurting. He thinks about things too deeply for his own good, be it the presence of his little brother, the things I say, the way his friends behave, the concept of Santa Claus… everything! He feels things so deeply that it can hurt and overwhelm him. He is also so aware of his surroundings as well as himself. He will often say things like “What’s wrong with me?” if he finds himself acting out or doing anything seemingly irrational. It’s amazing really, and it can also be quite painful for such a little boy.

      I will definitely look into the references you sent me Cheryl. You are incredibly strong and brave… I admire your strength!

      Reply
  5. ladyladuke

    I do hear of this often, and I think it is very normal. Try to keep your patience, and give it some time. I am one of 7, and somehow we all made it, and still like each other, even though we all tried to kill each other growing up;)

    Reply
  6. Verity

    I could have written this article myself! My highly sensitive 4-year old is still really struggling with his nearly 2-year old baby brother. They love each other to bits, but wow, the eldest still finds sharing me (and his things!) very challenging. It’s reassuring to know I’m not the only one struggling with it, as no one I know seems to have this problem. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      Hi Verity! Thank you for reading! No, you are not alone, I can assure you. Far from it. My eldest is now 7 years old and things have changed drastically. My boys are such great friends and play incredibly well with one another (when they’re not occasionally killing each other :), and they’ve accepted and embraced the fact that we share everything in our house. Things do change with time, so hang in there! It gets easier, I promise 🙂

      Reply
  7. Fezzy

    Thanks for updating Leila! I was wondering how things turned out and I’m glad you’re still active here. I’d love to hear more on what you did to help your boys cope with certain situations / what helped (you, the kids and the partner) the most get through this / what you would advise parents who will likely be in the same situation.
    We’re expecting no. 2 in about 3 months and we’ve been talking to our highly sensitive son (2y 4m) about babies and emotions etc. but he is NOT happy about the idea, and that is a total understatement. He gets very sad and anxious when he hears other babies/children cry and I don’t know how we will all survive the newborn stage without going insane. Especially in a small apartment with thin walls where he won’t really be able to ‘escape’ (also, poor neighbors uughhh). We talk to him about it and he tries to calm himself, too. But I’m not sure that he’s going to feel better by the time the baby arrives…

    Reply
    1. Leila Boukarim Post author

      Hello Fezzy! It won’t be easy. Nothing is with a HSC 🙂 But it will come. In the very beginning, the help big brother accept little brother as a member of the family, we used to hide little treats in baby’s bassinet and ask our HSC to look inside. Also when he was born, little brother came bearing gifts!

      Later on, my husband and I made sure to get quality, alone time with our HSC, making sure we exclude baby from the activity. During that time, it was just about big brother. We would talk, read, go out for tea and pastries, go to a playground together… anything he liked to do. That bonding time helped him feel less bad about having to share love attention with someone new. Also, shortly after the little one was born, my mother stayed with him and my husband and I went on a day trip to a nearby island. Our HSC had the time of his life there. He wasn’t happy to be back, but at least he knew that we could still do things with him.

      Looking back now, I feel like I may have over thought all of this. But we often feel this way about problems, which feel really big at the time, so that doesn’t help you at all 🙂 It’s just one of those things we have to go through and try to come out in one piece. I also do want to reassure you by saying I still haven’t met or heard of anyone who had a child who ignored his brother for a whole year like mine did. So here’s hoping yours will take it better and faster than mine!

      If you’d like to talk more, please send me an email at leilaboukarim@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you!

      Reply

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