By Elizabeth Pantley
Adding a second child to the family changes everything. The postpartum time produces a whirl of emotions that envelops everyone in those first tender months after bringing your second-born into your family. In our instinctive drive to keep newborns from harm, we often become overzealous.
Thus, without being aware, we protect the baby, but not her sibling’s feelings, driving a wedge between them from the very beginning. The words and actions we use to shield our infants inadvertently seem defensive, accusatory, and negative to our older children, who often do not, or cannot, communicate the hurt.
Siblings may perceive that they should be happy at such a time but may be perplexed as to why they also feel sad.
All the confusion an older sibling is feeling, coupled with the unintended negativity from parents, in turn, can discourage siblings from getting to know the newcomer and may plant the seeds for dreaded “sibling rivalry.” It may also drive our older children to act out in ways that we see as “naughty” but are merely desperate pleas for attention and equal billing.
The good news is that once you are aware of the emotional challenges there are many things you can do to overcome them and plant the seeds for your children to be the best of friends – right from the very beginning.
HOW TO HELP YOUR FIRSTBORN LOVE THE BABY
As with many situations in parenting, a simple awareness can eliminate much of the problem. In addition to becoming more aware of what’s happening, some very simple steps can encourage a positive experience for your older child (or children) when a new baby enters the family.
UNDERSTAND AND ACKNOWLEDGE
First, and foremost, acknowledge that this is a time of adjustment for everyone – time to reduce your outside activities, relax your housekeeping standards, and focus on your current priorities: adjusting to your new family size and paving the way for healthy sibling relationships. I know that this is hard to do. But babies are babies for such a short period of time that it’s worth it to allow yourself this time.
It’s important to understand and validate your older child’s feelings. Things have changed, and not just for you.
Like you, your older child may be more tired than usual, a little more stressed, a little touchier. It’s a natural reaction. The baby does require much time and attention, and will indeed dominate and disrupt family life for a while. Be sure to let your older child know you’re aware that he is struggling with this concept – and that that is okay. Simple statements like, “I know it’s hard to wait for Emma to wake up until we go to the park” will help your child hear that you care about her feelings.