New Baby, New Nanny - Help My Son Adjust!

We are having a problem with our nine-year-old boy. He acts like he doesn't care about anything. His attitude has been really bad in the past few weeks. We have had no major family changes in the last few months. In December we had a new baby boy and employed a new nanny (he seems to like the nanny and they get along very well.) She replaced a nanny that had been with us for four and a half years. He also has a younger brother who is six. We don't know what to do. His attitude about school and his extra activities has gone downhill sharply. We have told him that the extra activities are optional but he doesn't want to stop them. However his school-work is suffering. He doesn't want to study and we have to fight him over it. My husband and I are at a loss we don't know what to do to improve his attitude. Any suggestions??


Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Your son may be having a delayed response to the major life changes that adding a new brother and a new caretaker bring. He is experiencing the loss of a caregiver that has been with him half his life. Even though he likes the new nanny does not mean that he is not missing his attachment to his old caregiver. The fact that this coincided with the addition of a new sibling can be exacerbating the problem. Family researchers tell us that changes in family membership (entrances and exits from the family system) creates the greatest stress in adjustment. Your son has experienced two such transitions in the last five months!
The extra activities he is doing may be bringing him some special attention that he needs right now. This may account for his unwillingness to give them up. By not doing schoolwork he is succeeding in getting some special (albeit negative) attention from you. His attitude could be the expression of a depression resulting from the current losses. The answer may lie more in facilitating an expression of his negative feelings to help him adjust to change, rather than a focus on improving his attitude. A change in attitude will be a natural consequence of healthy adjustment.

Start by spending special one-on-one time with him. Take him to places he likes to go. Spend time doing activities with him he enjoys. Make clear that he can count on his own special time with you regularly. A good beginning to getting him back on track might include each parent spending special time with him once a week. Ask him about his day, and insist that he do his homework before other activities. But also make yourself available to hear and acknowledge any anger or sadness he may have about his present life.

Be sure to make room for expressing negative as well as positive feelings in the family. Ask him specifically what he does not like or what is not going well for him right now. Be careful that you do not discount or minimize his negative feelings if he does share them with you. Just listen and acknowledge. Give him a safe place to express negative feelings about the family changes or anything else going on for him. Being able to express negative feelings helps us adjust to changes that are out of our control.

Although he had no say in the changes that took place in the family they had a huge impact on his life. This can be very difficult for children, particularly at this age when they may show increased desire for having an influence on what is fair in their lives.

Also, make an appointment with his teacher to find out how his adjustment to school has been recently and whether he is having any problems with learning new material. Find out if he needs any assessment related to possible learning disabilities that could appear at this time. This is of particular importance as, at this age, children develop a sense of competency or inferiority based on their experience of their performance.

You might also consider suggesting a visit, writing a letter or talking on the phone with his first nanny if he shows an interest. Let him know that even if people leave, they can still remain connected.

Integrating a third sibling into your family is a big transition. Bonding to the new baby and making each child feel their place is still secure in the family can take some time. Staying connected as a couple and tending to individual children's needs can be stressful. However the more time and effort you are able to put into it now, the easier it will be in the future.

If you are still experiencing these difficulties after using these suggestions, consider consulting a child psychologist for specific help understanding your child better. Each child is unique. A psychological consultation may offer an objective view of the highly specific ways your child adapts or processes new experience.

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