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.
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