Mysmartkid’s educational psychologist, Anel Annandale, answers some of your questions about the ideal age difference between children and what parents should consider before having another baby.
Q: What would you consider the ideal age difference between children (for example first- and second-born)?
Anel: Some researchers suggest that parents wanting to have another baby should do so either before their first child turns one or after they have turned four. Generally, the thinking behind this advice is that before the age of one year, children do not yet have the capacity to think of themselves as ‘the only one’ and by the age of four years children are independent enough and involved enough in their own activities so that they are not intimidated by a new arrival. However, keep in mind that pregnancy is a demanding physiological process and a developing baby draws everything it needs from the mother’s body. Many medical doctors advise that mothers should not fall pregnant again within the first year after having a baby in order to give their body a chance to recuperate and to build up acceptable levels of vitamins and nutrients in the blood. Thus, on paper, having at least a four-year age gap between children seems to hold physical and emotional benefits.
Q: What are some of the risks involved in having too small or too large a gap between children?
Anel: When a small age gap exists between children it is important to keep in mind that your older child may still require a lot of individual attention and may not be independent enough or emotionally ready to deal with a new baby. All in all, this may result in a very difficult, chaotic time for the parents and family as a whole. On the other hand, having a larger age gap might mean that you need to relearn many of the things you had forgotten about caring for a baby or toddler. Having children close together may save costs when it comes to baby items and child care, and there’s a good chance that you will (eventually) be saving yourself a fair amount of time and travelling as well, as your children are more likely to be in the same school and to be involved in the same activities than children with a larger age gap will be. On the whole, it will probably also shorten the overall amount of time you spend in raising children. Having a larger age gap might mean that your children get on better and that you have a more peaceful and tranquil household, but it may also mean that your children do not develop as close a relationship as siblings who are more similar in age will develop.
Q: Can the gaps influence the children’s physical, emotional or academic success rate?
Anel: Every situation is so different that it is really difficult to say with any certainty what effect this will have. However, we do know that having an older sibling (no matter what the age gap is) has a very positive impact on vocabulary development, which in turn impacts positively on academic achievement. Too close a gap could lead to some jealousy and intensify sibling rivalry, as your children will largely be vying for the same resources. Yet as a positive spinoff, experts have also suggested that sibling rivalry may ‘toughen children up’ and make them more socially savvy by teaching them not only to stand up for themselves but also how to negotiate effectively. Having a large age gap between children may also be helpful in teaching older children to be more independent and to take on responsibility.
Q: What advice can you give to mothers planning to have another baby?
Anel: Besides your physical health and baby number one’s reaction, you also need to take into account:
Your capacity and resources. Do you live a lifestyle that affords you enough time/energy to give to more than one child? Do you have a good support system? Can you afford to have another child?
Your age. As women, we are more determined than ever to have it all: the husband, the family, the career. And having children later in life might not afford many of us the luxury of spacing our children far apart. The truth is that there really is no definite answer to how big the age gap should be between your child. What matters is that you sit down with your partner and talk it all through. In the end, no matter what the statistics say, it is important that you go with your gut. If you both feel that you are ready to have another baby, then go for it!