Parents often wonder, "How long should we wait before having another child?" Family happiness depends more on love than on pinpoint spacing of children. But optimum spacing can head off many problems.
Research shows that 3-1/2 years is the ideal interval between siblings. By that age, most children have achieved some autonomy and are not threatened by the arrival of a sibling. However, you're just as apt to have difficulty with a spacing of 5 years as you are with a spacing of 1-1/2 years.
If your children are spaced too close together, your first child may not be ready to do with less attention from you when the second comes along. To keep the baby from taking the cherished place in the spotlight, the older child may begin acting babyish or become aggressive toward the new baby.
On the other hand, if you have too much space between children, the older child may have settled too comfortably into the "only child" role. By that time the role seems like a territorial right. The older child may act jealous by teasing, ignoring, or refusing to share toys.
Spacing is often at the root of these common parental complaints:
Q: We have a 3-year-old son and an 8-month-old daughter. Suddenly, our son wants to drink from a bottle, wear diapers during the day, and be rocked to sleep. Despite his tantrums, we haven't given in to him. Now he's started wetting his pants during the day, something he hasn't done in nearly six months. What should we do?
A: Reassure your son that his place in the family is still secure and protected. Also convince him, firmly but gently, that the time for bottles, rocking, and diapers has passed. The next time he wets his pants, have him help you clean up. Teach him to rinse out his wet clothing and hang it over the tub to dry. Don't be punitive or worry about how good a job he does. You are only making him responsible and showing him you won't give in on the diaper issue.
Q: Our 2-1/2-year-old has recently started hitting, pushing, and squeezing her 10-month-old brother. What's causing this and how should we handle it?
A: Your daughter's aggression comes from jealousy, territorial instincts, and clumsy attempts to play with the baby.
Your first order of business is to protect your son. Your second is to teach your daughter to be gentle with her brother. Begin by putting him completely off-limits to her. For at least a week, don't even let her come near him. But do allow her to get things for you while you're involved with the baby.
After a week or so, allow her brief moments of closely supervised contact with her brother -- such as getting toys for him and helping you change him. Praise her for being gentle. In time, let her get involved more often.