PREPARING AN OLDER SIBLING TO MEET BABY
The prospect of becoming a new mother again raises so many questions. Yes, the family will have to find a new balance in order to fit the new baby in peacefully, and gently guide the older sibling into the role of big brother or sister. No, it doesn’t always happen right away. But with the help of your maternal instinct and a few tips, you’ll be able to smoothly lay a solid foundation for a big family.
FIRST, DON’T WORRY ABOUT YOUR ABILITY TO LOVE THEM EQUALLY
Your first pregnancy is always a slightly different experience than the next ones. The future mother feels each new step in the process of discovery intensely, paying close attention to baby’s development and the changes in her body and sticking firmly to the schedule of childbirth classes.
Second pregnancies are usually taken a little less seriously. Of course, each pregnancy is different, but you already know generally what will happen. That isn’t to say that you’re not interested, just that you feel calmer about everything.However, some women may see this as cause for concern about their ability to love their second child as much as the first. This is completely normal. But when it comes to helping your family settle peacefully into its new configuration, it’s best to eliminate these doubts from the outset: every mother loves all her children equally, but differently! The faster the new family organization can take shape, the sooner you can forget the fear of favoring one child over the other. And the sooner the older child will feel comfortable in the new role.
TELL HIM SIMPLY, AND DON’T WAIT TOO LONG
Future parents are generally advised to wait until the end of the first trimester to calmly tell the older child about a future little brother or sister. Children, however, are very intuitive and sensitive to even the smallest changes in those around them.
Seeing mother a little nauseated or tired may worry the older child. In this case, it’s better to announce the new pregnancy a little earlier. Besides, if you keep the secret from your older child too long, he may overhear a conversation or gesture that makes him feel left out of his parents’ happiness.
How should you phrase your announcement of the happy event? As simply as possible, without beating around the bush or frightening the child with unnecessary ceremony. Just tell him you’re happy to say that he’s going to have a little brother or sister soon, someone to play with. Don’t forget to say that he’ll have to wait a few months! Since a period of months is both long and abstract for a little person, try tying the month of the future birth to an image, such as when there are flowers in the garden or a little after your birthday.
DON’T ANTICIPATE HIS REACTIONS, BUT DO REASSURE HIM
Everyone reacts differently to the announcement of an event, no matter how happy. That goes for both young and old!
It is possible that the future older sibling will take the news indifferently; if this happens, it’s best to let him digest it on his own time, without bothering him with questions. He’ll express his feelings eventually. And when he does--or if he responds immediately with joy, or with a bit of anger or worry--listen to him attentively and assure him that both his parents love him unconditionally and always will.
HELP HIM TO BE AWARE OF YOUR PREGNANCY
The baby growing in your stomach is a difficult concept for a small child to understand. To reassure him, you need to demystify what’s happening. There are plenty of children’s books that tell the story of a pregnancy, and you can always personalize it.
Tell him his own story by flipping through the photo album of you with your belly growing over the months, then the first shots of him at the maternity ward, up to today. This approach is sure to get his attention. You can also let him feel little brother’s or little sister’s first movements, which will also help get him more involved with the event and prepare him to be an older sibling. Similarly, try involving him in your preparations for the birth, choosing a blankie or piece of clothing, etc.
But make sure not to go overboard. Preparing him doesn’t mean harassing him. Being available to answer his questions is always better than prompting him or giving answers he hasn’t asked for. Again, throughout this slow process of realization, remember to reassure your older child of how much you and his father love him.
FIND NEW ACTIVITIES TOGETHER
The more your pregnancy progresses, the more tired you’ll become. Gradually, it will get harder to play airplane or carry your child for hours on end. Of course, your partner will be there to take over the most difficult activities, and the two will form a closer bond. As for you, the future mother, you will be spending your energy in a different way.
You need to take care of yourself while also strengthening the ties with your older child. This is a time for your child to become more independent (by putting away toys, for example) and a wonderful opportunity for the two of you to (re)discover quieter activities together. After all, if you simply explain it, your “big kid” will have no problem understanding that even if mother is a little tired to play actively, he can still enjoy cuddling up to watch a movie or read a book, sharing a nap, or baking a cake with you.
Your older child will be reassured about his parents’ love, which in turn will make him better able to step into his future role as an older sibling by sorting toys he wants to give to the baby, participating in rearranging his room, etc.
BE CAREFUL HOW YOU INTRODUCE THE SIBLINGS AFTER THE BIRTH
Even with every precaution, the moment when a child goes from only child to older sibling is a delicate one. The first time he meets his little brother or sister should respect the intimacy of the new sibling relationship.
At the maternity ward, let him be the star. On the big day, the room should not be swarming with visitors, no matter how close. Their attention focused on the newborn could hurt the older child and interfere with the introduction. The children need to meet each other calmly. If the older child acts indifferent, just as when announcing a pregnancy, respect his silence. He just needs a little time.
Ask if he wants to play with baby’s tiny little hand, or (without insisting) offer to let him help care for baby or hold him in his arms, with help from you. The first body contact often triggers something in older children who are intimidated or suspicious.
WHEN YOU’RE BACK AT HOME, BE FIRM BUT TENDER
Just as it did for the first child, bringing the new baby into the house signifies the real start of a new life for the parents. It is possible that the first few days of your children living together will not be what you expected. Remind yourself that it can take time for you to see obvious signs of sibling closeness, and that you can’t force the relationship to develop.
Avoid criticizing the older child or ordering him around; instead, it is important to encourage confidence and constantly reassure him that his parents love him. The more you can maintain his daily routine (mealtimes, baths, games) and the more careful you are to spend special time with him, “just like before,” the more he will feel comforted and eventually willing to see the presence of this new playmate as something exciting! Of course, you will be very firm when it comes to preventing physical or verbal violence against the newborn. In fact, your older child will be reassured to see you setting limits to protect baby, just like you protect him.
Don’t be afraid to remind him that his new buddy is fragile, just as he once was. And always remember to tell your visitors not only how baby is developing, but also what your older child has accomplished. Talking him up to others and praising him directly can only help him step joyfully, calmly, and conscientiously into the role of an older sibling.