Maintaining Attachment Parenting As They Grow & Become Big Siblings…

by Christie on March 10, 2011

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My 20-month-old daughter is very easy to parent. Okay, well, that’s not entirely true. She’s aptly-nicknamed “Aurora the Destroyer” for her desire to explore and investigate, and her physical and mental abilities to not only climb to higher places, but figure out how to position things to climb to even higher places. But her needs, those are still simple. In her universe, most problems are still limited to being hungry, tired, dry, or bored, and most solutions are limited to food, a diaper or a breast.

My son Rowan, on the other hand, will be 7 in April, and he’s the one I struggle with. As a toddler, he was less physically draining but much more emotional than his sister, and that’s carried on into childhood. To compound things, he is in first grade with a less-than-emotionally respectful teacher, he’s a big brother, and I work from home as well. And of course, with age comes much more complex problems, and naturally, more complex solutions. With his emotional tendencies also comes some emotional outbursts — from him and me.

Being an Attachment Parent to babies and toddlers is very simple, and logically, you’re setting the groundwork then for childhood and adolescence, but maintaining the same relationship gets tougher and tougher. As we know, you can never be perfect at parenting — as your child always grows and changes, your parenting does as well. With a toddler, a job, and an upcoming move, I often feel like my changes as a parent, my growth alongside his has fallen behind, and we’re butting heads and struggling more with maintaining positive discipline and respect, both towards him and from him.

However, every time I start thinking, “What have I done wrong? Did I break our relationship?” I also stop and think, “What am I DOING wrong?” Then, the basics become clear again. Regardless of age, some things still stand true:

1. You have to stop and listen to their needs. The more distanced you are from them, the more complicated figuring them out will be. Also, the bigger they are, the more aware they are of whether or not you’re really listening and caring. Sometimes you’re going to need to have someone remove the little sibling from the room or wait for a nap so your child can really know all the attention is on them, and only them. But of course, as long as you follow through, nothing is wrong with letting your child know you need to wait until ___ time, and then you’ll sit down and talk.

2. You have to accept that you aren’t always going to be perfect… and neither are they. Sometimes you’re going to suck. Sometimes you will be really distracted, concentrating hard on something, and will say something in a less-than-ideal manner… and chances are, your kid will respond in kind. A very important lesson for you to learn is that there’s no erasing mistakes, but there’s learning from them. In fact, almost as important as what you do the first time is how you handle things when you’re patching them up.

3. Remember the behavior is only a symptom. Just like with infants, you still need to remember that they did whatever they did, or didn’t do, for a reason, and that’s what you need to figure out. Getting down at their level, with a sympathetic face and tone, is very important, but so is respecting when they’re not ready to talk. Nothing irritated me more as a child than trying to walk away so I could calm down and being followed, which leads me to…

4. Respect their autonomy. Allowing children to have a space that’s theirs, and letting them have it as somewhere they can request to be alone is invaluable. If you’ve been respectful and open and available with your child, they’ll start becoming independent all on their own, and with that comes the request for certain autonomy, like being able to have a space of their own that a sibling can’t destroy. If Rowan is annoyed with Aurora, he knows his room is a place he can do things without her interference.

5. Try to make as much time just for them. This one is particularly difficult in my household as childcare isn’t readily available or desirable for us, but even just playing a game with my son while she’s napping or nursing can make all the difference.

Overall, the general mantra is: Be patient, be present and be respectful. Life can really start making things difficult, but the longer you let the distance grow, the worse things will get. Taking the time, even when you feel you don’t have it, so close that gap again is so, so important.

What do you feel is most important when dealing with older children?

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Christie (1 Posts)

Christie Haskell is a lover of children, animals and shiny things. While sipping coffee in her Pacific Northwest home shared with her cat, children and husband, she writes for CafeMom's The Stir, DailyMomtra and The Antics of Wee Ones.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Helen March 11, 2011 at 1:24 pm

It always helped me to know what range of behaviors were “normal” to see in a child of a certain age. I vividly remember a friend phoning me in tears because her easy going, bidable one year old daughter had just turned into an 18 month old who fought her at every turn. She wanted to know what she had done wrong to have this happen! That’s how I felt when my son, who was great at 18 months, turned three and a half. (I’m sure that having a toddler sister made things worse.) I found a copy at the library of Your Three-Year-Old, Friend or Enemy by Ilg and Ames, based on the Gesell Institute research. It saved my life. I went on to faithfully read the whole series of books, one each year.
Now I give my DD a new book each year so she can see what is coming up with her intense first-born. It’s such a relief to have descriptions of behaviors, with an explanation of why this is happening, and gentle suggestions on how to handle the behavior. The books support the “it takes a lot of slow to grow” kind of approach, assuming small children need much time, attention, and patience, while respecting their needs for both autonomy AND structure. I love this series, and find the books very useful in an attachment parenting context.

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Ameenah jackson March 11, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Thank u much for this article!!! I have a 6,4,2 and 7 month old and could definitely relate. The tips u gave are great (some of which I use already) and very useful.

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apprenticemom March 13, 2011 at 12:33 am

Thanks for sharing your experience. I have two “spirited” children, so I’ve never had the experience of a child who was easy to parent, toddler or older!

My oldest is 5 1/2, and the thing I find most helpful is to remember that she is ONLY 5 1/2 – that is still very young, and my expectations need to be adjusted accordingly!

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