I once read that when your first child swallows a coin you rush him to the emergency room and demand X-rays, when your second child swallows a coin you watch carefully for the coin to pass, and when your third child swallows a coin you deduct it from his allowance. Such is the way parenting evolves with each new child.
However, it’s often the arrival of your second bub that may worry you most. Having spent the last year or two giving your firstborn your undivided attention, the arrival of Baby Number 2 often changes everything.
The postpartum time produces a whirl of emotions that envelops everyone in those first tender months after bringing your secondborn into your family. In our instinctive drive to keep our newborns from harm, we often become overzealous.
Thus, without being aware, we protect the new baby, but not the sibling’s feelings, driving a wedge between them from the very beginning. The words and actions we use to shield our infants inadvertently seem defensive, accusatory and negative to our older children, who often do not — or cannot — communicate the hurt. Siblings may perceive that they should be happy at such a time, but may be perplexed as to why they also feel sad.
All the confusion an older sibling is feeling — coupled with the unintentional negativity from us as protective parents — can discourage him from getting to know the newcomer and may plant the seed for that dreaded “sibling rivalry.” It may also drive our older kids to act out in ways that we see as “naughty,” but they are merely desperate pleas for attention and equal billing.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
The manner in which we prepare our family for the new arrival is key to how the experience will unfold. Here are tips on helping to make the transition work well for everyone.
1. Prepare Your Firstborn Early-On
Begin introducing your child to his new sibling during the pregnancy. As soon as the “bump” begins to appear, ask if there’s anything your child would like to know about the future arrival. Tell him that new bubs often require lots of sleep and special attention in those first few weeks.
2. Hold a Naming Ceremony
Have a selection of possible names, and ask your child her favorites and why. Getting your older child involved in naming her new sibling will help forge a bond between them.
3. Set Expectations
This is an exciting time for your child. Talk about how lucky she is that she will have a new brother or sister to play with. I used to tell my boys, “It’s like having your best friend sleep over every night!”
4. Make Time to Adjust
Talk about how there will be some adjustments when the new baby arrives. Let your firstborn know that Mommy and Daddy will have to share their love and time a bit more. Remind her that just as she once needed their undivided attention in those early months, so , too, will her baby brother or sister.
5. Validate Your Child’s Feelings
As much as you can prepare your child for the new arrival, it’s normal for him to still feel jealous since he will no longer be the center of attention. He might often feel as though he is being ignored. Keep an open line of communication with him and remind him the he is still loved just as much as ever and that you have enough love to share with everyone. Plenty of cuddles with both children together will go a long way toward soothing things over.
6. Bring Out the Baby Photos
In those first few weeks, show baby photos or videos of your first child to remind him of the attention he received when he arrived. Teach your firstborn how to be helpful with the baby, without expecting him to become a built-in babysitter.
7. Maintain One-on-One Time
Keep up the special individual time with your child, shared between Mom and Dad. While your newborn sleeps is a good time to take advantage of this quality time.
Finally, it’s important for couples to have their own time together as well. Take advantage of available babysitting and spend time together — even if it’s just to take a nap!
Remember that although difficult and tiring, these are the most precious and wonderful times in our lives. Appreciate how lucky you are to have been given the gift of parenthood. Take plenty of family photos, always have a good sense of humor and support one another as often as you can.
Darrell Brown is the author of Raised by Our Childhood Voices. www.darrellbrown.com.au.