The arrival of a new family member is usually a very special, emotional and beautiful time. However, for those families where the baby is not the first one, the arrival can be filled with some concern: how will the older sibling adapt to the changes?, will he be jealous, how can we help her to get along?
We usually explain what’s going to happen, but sometimes we don´t realize how, some of the things we talk about are too abstract, too hard to understand, or too far away in time, so they lose their meaning soon.
Where do we start then? Let’s see some guidelines that can help with the process:
– During the pregnancy, it is important to talk about what is happening, explaining the changes as they occur. The ones we can easily see, like mom’s tummy getting bigger, are the ones that will make the most sense for them. If we support this changes with explanations according to their age, and even pictures and videos from when they were themselves in that tummy, even better. But we also should involve them in the changes in the house, such as the redistribution of rooms, furniture, etc. especially when some furniture can change its function or go from being something only one person uses, to something to be shared.
– Having a new baby at home is very nice… And tiring, because it requires a lot of attention and does not allow for enough sleep. And boring, because they just do nothing but sleep and eat, and we have to be silent at times during the day, which did not happen before… And all this must be explained to the children properly. If we only tell them the nice part, what a disappointment they will get when they experience reality! Also, they’re not going to play with them, at least not at first. Beware of what we tell them, we do not want raise expectations that are not going to be fulfilled. We don´t need to scare them but give them the truth.
– However, there are beautiful moments that can be shared and enjoyed together: having a bath, singing Lullabies… and we can offer the older child to be part of them, and decide if they want or not.
– When the baby arrives, we should try, as much as we can, to make sure the routines don’t change for the older ones: to have to go to a relative´s house for a couple of days, to have a different person taking them to school, can impact on them more than we think. And when visiting mum at the hospital, it would be better if the baby is in the crib when they arrive and we focus on them before introducing the baby.
– As we have done in preparation for the arrival of the new baby, we keep talking about when the older ones were babies, what they did, how, anecdotes… And we give them the opportunity to go back to it by leaving photo albums within their reach for example. Always without comparing. Each child is unique.
– We must create opportunities to do things together, both with the new baby and alone. And that goes for both parents. Creating times to spend time and activities only with mum or dad, like going to the park, making a cake, playing a board game… are special moments that make the children feel still included in the family, not that they´ve lost something important with the arrival of the baby. When we do activities one to one and another little brother or sister wants to join the game, we must involve the older child in the decision. We should reflect on: Can they really follow the game? It may be too young to follow the rules and we have to change the game. Then we need to finish the started game and then involve everyone. Or they may not know how to play but can be taught, and who better than the older brother to help with the teaching. Or it may be a game that the older one does not want to share or is special to them as a game they only play with mom or dad. So we can put it away for another time. There are things that the elders can do that the little ones aren´t ready for yet, and that must be recognized by all.
– There’s no need to share. Some toys will be of each one while others will be for sharing. And while we give a lot of value to sharing, it must be accepted when they don’t want to. Full acceptance, no judgments.
– As they grow, conflicts will arise. And as difficult as it may be, we must try to stay out of the conflict as long as it´s safe, let them solve it themselves. We must value the fact that they managed to solve it, without judging the ways or the reasons they used, the decision or what had happened before. We value the fact that they have been able to resolve it between them. Bit by bit we will encourage the sense of fairness if they are not taking it into account, but always valuing that they do it themselves, and we, as parents, do not take sides.
– When doing chores, everyone can help, in different ways and with different responsibilities, but with the participation of all.
– We cannot force feelings. We can’t force the children to love each other. Sometimes we put too much pressure on them to love the little brother or sister who just arrived but, they don’t even know them! Give them time.
Of course, the children´s different ages are going to determine some of this but adjusting a little and seeing it from their point of view (despite the fatigue, hormones, stress…, which is the difficult part we face as parents) we can help the relationship between siblings to be better.
“Though you are different from me, my brother, far from harming me, your existence enriches mine” Antoine de Saint-Exupery