April 16, 2007 in Features

Father might resent way new baby changes family dynamics

Armin Brott By Armin Brott McClatchy-Tribune News Service
 

Dear Mr. Dad: My husband and I have four beautiful children. My twins are from my first marriage, but my husband now loves them very much. We also have a 6-month old baby boy and I’ve noticed that my husband hardly gives our son any attention. If daddy is lying nearby, the baby will roll over and grab his hand or face. But dad just looks at him and gives him a quick smile and that’s it. I bring this to his attention and he’ll ignore me as well. Could there be something wrong?

A: What an excellent – and difficult – question.

I’m curious about the ages of the other three children. What sometimes happens in blended families, particularly when there are older kids, is that having a new child together makes it clear to dad (and mom) that the relationship with the older children will never be the same. The focus is always going to be on the baby and more age-appropriate parent-older-child activities are going to be harder to organize. Going out to the movies, for example, will be nearly impossible with a baby. And many activities will have to be scheduled around the baby’s nap and bedtime schedule. For that reason it’s possible that dad could be feeling a little resentful of the new baby. I know, it’s completely irrational, but that’s often how it plays out. Chances are dad may not even be aware that this is happening.

As far as what to do, you can help a lot by making sure that dad has plenty of one-on-one time with the older kids, time they can spend doing things those kids enjoy. That should reduce whatever resentment he’s feeling toward the baby. It’s important that you tell him exactly what you’re doing and why. Something as simple as, “I know that having a baby can really change your relationship with our older kids and I want to make sure you and they have plenty of opportunity to be together. I’ll be glad to take the baby while you and the big kids have an afternoon to yourselves.”

Dear Mr. Dad: Our daughter is very shy and seems to have very few friends. My wife and I worry that there’s something wrong with her and we want to help her make more friends. What can we do?

A: There’s no magic number of friends a child should have and your child’s temperament will play a major role in determining whether she has one or a dozen (more on this below). Your job should be to stress quality not quantity. Here’s how you can help:

•Actively encourage your child to get involved in playgroups, either by setting them up yourself or by joining a group of other parents of preschoolers. While it comes naturally to some, for others, making friends takes a lot of practice. Kids who don’t have ample opportunities to interact with other children may never learn how.

•Keep your child’s temperament in mind. “Active kids who adapt well to new situations have the most friends,” says James Cameron, Ph.D., director of The Preventive Ounce in Oakland, Calif. “But kids who are shy and slower to adapt usually have far fewer – but much deeper – friendships. They often have trouble handling any more than one friend at a time and tend to have ‘serial friendships’ instead.” On a play date, your active child will take off with a new or old friend the minute you get in the door, and he might not even notice when you leave. But if you have a shy child, expect some clinginess and plan on sticking around for a while. Telling both children a story or getting the two of them set up with an art project can really help break the ice.

•If your child is having some trouble making friends, ask her teacher to pair her with another child who’s having the same problems. And when inviting other children over, make sure that you keep the number of guests to one or two. The trick here is to get your child involved in doing something with another child that she would enjoy doing on her own.

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