Although news of another bun in the oven brings great joy to family and friends, things might not be quite the same for your firstborn. While some firstborns may share their parents’ enthusiasm and looks forward to being an older sister or bother, others may wallow in uncertainty at the possibility of losing their spot as the centre of attention.
Ideally, parents would love for everyone to get along, but sometimes there’s just no telling how their older child would react to the news. There’s so much to think about: like preparing yourself mentally that you’ll be taking care of two kids in a matter of 9 months. So many questions running through the mind. Will your older child be alright with having a new sibling? How will your older one fare with all the routine changes revolving around the new baby?
Regardless of all the challenges, early preparation is key because your child will need time to adapt to the idea that he or she is no longer the only child in the family. So, the sooner you can break the news, the more time you will have to help him or her prepare. Here are some tips on preparing your child for another sibling and ways to help him or her adjust to the new change.
Be age-appropriate when breaking the news
Because the goal here is to prepare your older child for what is coming, not confuse them even more. For instance, there is no need to explain about the birds and the bees to a 2-year-old because quite frankly, what would they know?
Generally, older children tend to be more accepting and enthusiastic about meeting a new sibling, whereas younger children might end up confused or upset. Below are some ways you can approach the matter, broken down by age.
For children ages 2 and below
Showing picture books about babies and families is a great start because it is very likely they don’t yet have the cognitive skill to understand what it means to have another sibling. Using your very own family photos with your sibling(s) is a great idea as well.
For children ages 2 to 4
Things are slightly more delicate when they are around this age because they are still quite attached to you. Some might feel a little jealous and threatened about possibly not getting as much attention from you when the baby comes. Some react now, others react later when the baby arrives. The important thing is to give your older child a lot of assurance that there is more than enough love to go around. Play up the whole older sister / older brother scenario and show them their advantages being the older one. Allow them to take on small responsibilities like choosing out a new romper for the new baby for example – he or she will feel important and included. Digging out their baby albums can also help them to know what to expect. Why not have your older child tag along for your next doctor visit? Who knows? Your older child might just have a change of heart after seeing the 4D scans and hearing the heartbeat!
While it is easier to explain matters to school-aged children, they might be the hardest one yet. Their inquisitive minds would have a gazillion questions for you. They can also be prone to jealousy and discontent at having to share mum and dad with someone else. OR they can be the complete opposite and be super excited about the new baby! No matter the response, always remember to be patient and reassuring. And of course, read up so that you’ll be ready with the answer when the questions start rolling.
When your baby is born
When your baby is born, have a family member or a relative bring your older child to the hospital for a short visit. There are some Malaysian practices like getting your firstborn to carry the baby before everyone else for instance, and getting ready gifts “from the baby” to the older child or vice versa.
Be ready to play by ear and to be attentive to your firstborn’s reaction. Make sure your hands are free so that you can give some one-to-one attention to your firstborn so that he or she does not feel left out. For some, it might be the longest time they had to be apart from you because you were in the hospital. Surely, they would have been anxious, missing you, and wanting plenty of cuddles the moment they walk through the door.
Even if you did prepare your older child, do not be surprised if their behaviour suddenly changes when finally meet their sibling. With everyone focused on you and the baby, your older child might act up just to get attention. This is common, as children do not know how to control or express their feelings just yet. Slowly, over time your child will learn to adjust.
When your baby is home
Once your baby is home, get your older child involved as much as possible. Dub them mum’s favourite helper and get them to help with simple things like handing you a new diaper when you’re doing diaper change or picking toys up. This helps them to feel important and assures them that they still matter to you.
Listen and be kind, because occasionally your older child will still get frustrated at not being able to spend more time with you when you’re tending to the baby. Do not dismiss what your older child is feeling. Instead, acknowledge that you are aware of his or her disappointment and make it up to them later.
Make the effort to spend some one-on-one time with your older child when your baby is asleep. They need a lot of assurance from you now, to feel special and wanted. So when you can let daddy, your confinement lady or even another family member take over for a while so that you can reconnect with your firstborn.
Be generous with your praises and words of encouragement especially when you see them showing interest in their younger sibling or when they offer to help you take care of the baby. Don’t overdo it though, so that they do not only love their sibling, just to gain your love.
Even if your older child still does not want anything to do with the baby, it is best not to react or to force them to be involved. It is normal for some to take longer than usual so just give them some time and they should come around.
What if they still cannot get along?
We think that going through this jealousy phase is an inevitable part of growing up, regardless of what the age gap is. There will be fights, there will be regression, but this is the beauty and pains of growing up. It might take a lot of tolerance from both parents and everyone else, but think about all the memories you will build together as a family.
A new addition to the family may be the biggest change in your firstborn’s young life, but try not to overthink it. Even if your children do not get along now, they will grow to appreciate one another when they are older!
What other practices did you do when introducing your older child to their sibling? Share it with us in the comments box below!