All their life up until now your firstborn has been the centre of your lives and the sole focus of all your love, time and attention. It’s brilliant having so much adoration and life is great. Then along comes a tiny newborn baby to knock them off their pedestal. After being used to having 100% of your attention suddenly they have 50%, or less. It’s not as if anyone even consulted them on whether they would like a brother or sister in the first place. It’s not surprising; therefore, that firstborns can feel more than a little put out by a new arrival.
Paving the way
Before the birth talk to your child about the baby growing in Mummy’s tummy. Read lots of books about being a big brother or sister and talk about your own siblings and how much you loved growing up with them. One thing toddlers might worry about most is what will happen to them when you give birth. When your due date approaches explain to them who will be looking after them and reassure them that you will be back with them very soon.
Toddlers are busy little beings who are caught up with their own lives and things that are happening in the here and now. Don’t be offended if they don’t take a lot of interest in your talk of the new baby and the fact that your tummy is getting bigger and bigger. The idea of a new baby is a very abstract concept for them and, however much you prepare them, the actual arrival might still come as a bit of a shock.
Prepare for mixed emotions
Some children take a new baby in their stride and are nothing but loving and caring towards them, and helpful towards their mother. However in most cases there are a mix of emotions at play with many children feeling also anger and jealousy towards their siblings that they do not know how to handle. Let them know that’s it’s OK not to always like all aspects about being a big sibling and let them share their feelings about the new baby and the way it has changed their life; the good, the bad and the ambivalent. Then try and suggest what you can do to make them feel better. It might be something nice that you can do together, or a fun game they can play with to make feeding times more fun for them. By acknowledging their feelings and showing that you care, they will be able to face those emotions and deal with them. It’s a big change for all of you and it will take some time to get used to your new family of four and your roles and places within it.
Involve your child by letting them help with the baby
One way to lessen any jealousy about how much time you will have to spend changing, feeding and rocking your new baby is to give your oldest child a role to help out. They can have special ‘big girl’ or ‘big boy’ jobs, such as fetching a new nappy, helping find a rubber duck for bath time and singing a lullaby to the baby to help them sleep.
You can also give your child their own baby, in the form of a doll, to look after so they can play alongside you. They can change, feed, bathe and take their own baby out too, in a little buggy or sling. This is a lovely way of sharing the experience together through play.
Get them giggling
Laughter has a powerful effect on the body. It reduces stress hormones and increases immune cells. It triggers a release of endorphins and gives an overall sense of well-being. It has even been shown to temporarily relieve pain! So make some time in your day to get them giggling any way you can. The tickle monster can pay them a visit, or you might find that you do a funny dance for them to cheer them up, or it might be funny songs or phrases that get them going. Whatever it is add a little bit of laughter to every day. It’s good for them and it’s good for mums too!
Build in one-on-one time
When your child is reassured that you couldn’t possibly love anyone else more than you love him, then sibling rivalry will soon melt away. Find times each day for one-on-one time where you can give all your attention to your child. This can be on the morning walk to playgroup or nursery, on the walk home from the park when the baby is asleep in the pram, at bath or bedtime. Look for plentiful opportunities to give them a warm smile, a hug and a kind comment. When your baby sleeps forget the pile of laundry and the washing up and make this a special time to play and have fun with your firstborn, just like you used to before.
Keep things on an even keel
With life as they know it thrown up in the air by the new baby’s arrival don’t make any more big changes to your child’s routine at this time. Now’s not the time to start potty training or move your child to a big bed or start a new nursery. Instead stick to your child’s usual routine so that they don’t feel that the new baby’s arrival has changed every aspect of their life. Leave any major changes until a few months down the line when things are more settled.
They are still little too
It’s easy to go overboard reminding your child that they are suddenly a big girl or boy. Don’t forget that they are still young too. Try to avoid giving them too much responsibility and expecting too much of them and make sure you still let them be little.
Your eldest will be very aware that the new baby is smaller and cuter than they are. They will be aware that everyone who visits comments on how small and cute the new baby is. And they will see that being so small and cute means they get lots of cuddles and attention. With this in mind it’s no surprise that the big girl or big boy label may be one they are reluctant to take on board and it’s easy to understand why they might regress in their behaviour in an attempt to divert attention from the baby back to themselves.
Don’t punish them for babyish behaviour
Regressing to babyish behaviour is a natural way for young children to deal with big emotions, like jealousy, that they don’t really understand or have the words to explain. Don’t punish your older child for acting this way. Talking in baby voices, weeing their pants even after being potty trained or refusing to eat food, are all common signs of the anxiety your eldest may be feeling during this change. Of course it comes at the worst possible time for mums, as they are usually exhausted and sleep deprived caring for a newborn together with a young child, but try to remember that although it feels endless, they will settle down. If you pay little attention to it and deal with it in a matter of fact way, it is more likely to pass sooner.
The new baby is a bit boring!
Newborns are utterly adorable to us but to your first born who was expecting a new brother or sister as a playmate it turns out that they are actually a bit boring. All they seem to do is cry, poo and sleep. They can’t join in any fun games and they even spoil some of them by needing a feed or a nappy change right in the middle of a fun game with mum or dad. It’s understandable that your firstborn might not even show much interest in their new brother or sister, apart from jealousy over all the cuddles they get.
Sibling bonds happen over time
One of our most cherished dreams as parents is that our children will be the best of friends, who are always there for one another. To see your first born show indifference or jealousy over the new arrival can be disheartening. Drawing your older child into talking about the baby, what it might be needing, why it is crying, can often help to cement an affectionate, lasting relationship between the two. Once your baby begins to smile and laugh it helps too. You can make a big deal of the fact your baby saves his most special smile for his big brother or sister. Once your oldest child starts to be able to make his little brother or sister smile or giggle they start to get something back in the relationship and bonds often develop quickly.
What if my child tries to hurt the new baby?
Right from the very first day explain to your child that we need to be very gentle with newborn babies. However much they understand, emotions of jealousy and hostility can lead some children to push, poke or nip their new baby sibling. It’s alarming if this happens, but think very carefully about how you react as it may leave your child feeling even more resentful towards the baby. Talking about sibling jealousy in The Independent, Jeremy Todd, chief executive of Parentline Plus advises: “Although you must explain clearly that they are not allowed to hurt the baby, tell them you know they are not meaning to be bad and they should tell you how they are feeling, rather than take it out on their brother or sister.”
Giving your child a sibling is one of the greatest gifts of all
Your older child might not appreciate it now but having a sibling is one of the greatest joys in life. Once they get over the early days of feeling jealous and hostile towards the new arrival who has knocked them off their throne, they will discover that they have a playmate, a friend and a support that will last all through their lives.