It’s obvious that the less displaced your older child feels by the new baby, the less jealousy she’ll suffer. One way for her to feel secure in her role in the family is invite her to join the “home team” along with the parents. Then, instead of jockeying for the coveted position as the only child of two parents, she becomes part of the family unit that’s welcoming this new baby.
Your attitude will help her develop a sense of responsibility, as in “That’s my baby!” — especially if you use phrases like “Our baby” or “Your sister” or “Your baby.” Here are ten tips to facilitate sibling bonding instead of sibling rivalry, right from the start:
1. Cultivate the relationship between your older child and your partner throughout the pregnancy. When you’re holding the new baby nonstop, you want your older child to be excited about spending time with Dad, because naturally there will be some disconnection from you.
2. Encourage your child’s connection to the baby by:
reading books about childbirth
taking him with you to the doctor to hear the baby’s heartbeat
pondering potential baby names together (if you can let him “name” the baby with a name you love, all the better)
packing a bag together for the hospital that includes a photo of him. To pick the photo, go through his baby pictures together and talk about what a wonderful baby he was, and what a wonderful boy he is now, which will emphasize his child’s special-ness to you. You might even pick some photos of him to frame and put up, since undoubtedly there will be pix of the new baby soon.
3. Let your child express his full range of feelings throughout the pregnancy, birth, and afterwards, responding with empathy. Naturally he will feel some jealousy about all the time and attention you and everyone else are giving to the new baby. Reassure him with your words and actions that you adore him, and be sure to spend “special” time just with him each day. While it’s fine to emphasize the advantages of being older, it’s ok to reassure him that he will always be your baby, too, and to baby him a bit. Some older sibs will want to “play” baby, and that’s fine. He won’t regress forever.
4. Get any big changes out of the way well in advance of the birth, such as room changes, weaning and toilet training. She needs time to make these new routines into habits without associating them with the baby.
5. Keep your relationship with your older child as smooth and affectionate as possible, sidestepping power struggles and minimizing conflicts. She needs to be secure in your love to handle the arrival of a sibling with equanimity. Naturally she may be a little cranky and test you; she’s trying to be sure you still love her.
6. You might consider sibling birth classes, which offer lessons on how to hold a baby, explanations of how a baby is born, and opportunities for your child to discuss his or her feelings about having a new brother or sister. Whether or not you do this education yourself, be sure your child understands that babies cry a lot at first and aren’t ready to play for a long time, but that the baby will always look up to big brother and want his attention and care.
7. You’ll need to decide and discuss with your older child who will be with him during the birth itself. This can be a difficult time for the older sibling. Be sure he has the opportunity during a “trial run” to spend the night with whoever will care for him.
8. You might consider having your older child be part of the birth process. My own 4 year old son came to the hospital with us and built a new lego during labor, but was there during the birth (up near my head, holding my hand.) He loved being present when his baby sister was “created,” and has always been very protective of her.
Of course, I expected an easy delivery like my first, and had arranged for a close family friend to be with him during labor and to whisk him away if the birth got complicated. I had also prepared him by reading lots of birth books. Nowadays, there are great birth videos that are appropriate for children; see if you can rent “Gentle Birth Choices” or “Birth Day” from your local library to watch with your child. His reaction can be a useful indicator as to whether he’s ready to attend the actual birth.
A classic way to prepare a child for observing a birth is to let him help you push a large piece of furniture across the room. Point out that making loud noises, straining and sweating helps you work harder, and that labor is even more work. It’s important that your child know what to expect, including that the baby might look odd, and that it doesn’t hurt to cut the cord, even though the cord bleeds.
9. If your child is not present at the birth, you will want her to visit you as quickly as possible after the baby is born, before other visitors. Emphasize your joy at seeing her, rather than your preoccupation with the new baby. Then let her sit and hold the baby, helping her to support his head. Dr. Lawrence Aber, a bonding expert, says that babies’ heads give off pheromones, and when we inhale them, we fall in love and begin to feel protective. The more your older child snuggles her new sib, the better their relationship is likely to be.
10. Privately ask family members to give “big brother or sister” presents instead of “new baby” presents. Your new baby won’t mind wearing hand me downs, and it will help your oldest to feel like there’s indeed something to celebrate. And be sure there’s a special gift from the new baby to the older sib!
About the author:
Dr. Laura MarkhamDr. Laura Markham is the founder of the parenting web site www.YourParentingSolutions.com, featuring a popular advice column and parent-tested solutions you can use every day to connect with your kids and create a richer family life. Her work appears regularly on a dozen parenting sites and in print. Dr. Markham specializes in helping families nurture the parent-child relationships that protect today’s kids. She lives in New York with her husband, eleven year old daughter, and fifteen year old son.