When it comes time to add a sibling to the family, young children are often concerned if there will be enough love to go around. I have found it helpful to make the answer as concrete as possible.
Concrete thinking is a well-documented characteristic of children. Jean Piaget described how our thinking changes throughout childhood. A child under the age of 6, for example, tends to overlook a transition. They see the beginning and end but not the transition itself. So, if given play dough, and asked to roll it into a ball and then into a sausage, and asked if there is more, less, or the same amount of play dough as a ball or sausage, they will tell you there is more when it is a sausage. They see it as bigger and cannot see that material was not lost or gained in the transition. I understand why children, who have such difficulty with abstract ideas, find this difficult to understand and persist in their worry about whether their parents will love them as much when there is another child.
So, when dealing with a child’s concern of a new baby brother or sister, it is best to respond as concretely as possible. A simple way to do this is to demonstrate the transition from uncooked to cooked rice. I have them hold a cup of uncooked rice in their hands. Then, together, we add it to the pot and add the water. Then we watch it boil and we wait. We keep watching and waiting. Then we uncover the pot and see how much the rice has grown. This is followed by the simple statement: “Love is like that. When we add something, like a new baby brother or sister, it makes the total amount of love grow. Just like the water made the rice grow. There will always be enough love to go around.”
What is even more interesting to me is the idea that, at times, adolescents and adults find this concept difficult too. Middle school and high school students worry that there is not room in the group for everyone; so letting someone in means someone may have to be excluded. First-time parents worry that they will not love each other as much once their child arrives. They worry that a child will take up their time and they will “lose the romance”. Parents worry that they will not love the second child as much as they love the first. These worries reflect a concern that there is only a limited amount of love to go around; that when we have to divide it among more people, each person will get less.
However, that is simply not true. Love is meant to fill the space that is available to it. It fills the spaces and brings us closer to each other. The more people we share our love with, the more love there is to go around.
Love is like the water that makes the rice grow. Be afraid to skimp on your love, not to share it.
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