All parents leave the hospital with their first baby feeling excited and proud. Most also have many anxious moments as they appropriately worry about everything. Is the baby seat correctly installed? How do we bathe the baby? Is he going to have a happy childhood? Where will he go to college? When the second child arrives, the list of questions grows even larger: Will the older embrace the younger? How will they get along?
I remember that our firstborn devoured the attention of being an only child. He developed an outgoing and engaging personality, which really made us wonder how he might feel about sharing his parents. Would he be the caring, protective brother or would he become the problem child constantly vying for attention? Of course, no parent knows until the big event happens, but there are steps that can be taken to ensure the best possible outcome.
Advanced preparation is essential to a smooth transition. Once you know your pregnancy is progressing properly, it is time to plant the seed that a sibling is on the way. Using language your child will understand, explain as much as you can. Read books about what a new baby means to the family and revisit your toddler’s birth by looking at his newborn pictures with him.
Also, involve your child in baby-related activities so he may share in the anticipation. A trip to the doctor’s office to hear the baby’s heartbeat can be a powerful bonding experience. Sort old toys together, encouraging big brother to choose some items that are special to him and some to give to the newborn. And put your child’s design skills to work, allowing him to add touches to the new nursery, which will further connect him to the family’s newest addition.
Young kids are often very self-focused, and your child will want to know what happens to him when his mother leaves for the hospital. Explain who will be staying in the house and the things he will be doing while mommy is away. Also discuss the details of hospital visits and meeting the new baby.
Finally, the big day arrives and it is time for the siblings to meet. Before introducing them, spend a few minutes alone with your oldest. It is important to talk about how much you missed him and share appropriate details about the birth. He may ask some difficult questions so be prepared to explain how the baby got of your stomach. And don’t forget to congratulate him on his promotion to big brother—this will make your child feel extra special.
Upon arriving home, a new mom not only has to take care of her baby but also needs personal recuperation time. The man of the house should increase his ‘daddy’ duties, providing needed rest and relief for his wife and cultivating his connection with the kids. Furthermore, the oldest may be feeling needy because he has to share mom with a new sib, so communicate specific times where he can be alone with you. Balancing the demands of a newborn can initially can create some family frustration, but it does eventually work out.
Lastly, your child may demonstrate some regressive behaviors. It is normal for an older sibling to want the same attention as the baby, and thus he may act like one by sucking his thumb or speaking baby talk. It is OK to temporarily indulge these actions, but make sure to refocus on the fun of being the older child, which allows him to eat ice cream and go to the park. There also may be bouts of jealousy and poorly timed meltdowns. Remain calm; this is an adjustment period for all.
According to the U.S. Census, 80 percent of all children have siblings. Most kids are excited to have additional offspring in the house and a good relationship will naturally develop. Enjoy this period of innocence. Time passes quickly and soon your babies will be teenagers…and entirely new set of questions and concerns will take over.
Russell Hyken is a psychotherapist who works with families and young adults. For more information, call 691-7640 or visit teenparentingexpert.com.