One of the things I was concerned about when I was pregnant with my second child; was how my first child was going to react to his new siblings’ arrival. There is so much literature out there on sibling rivalry and how to ensure your siblings get along. To be honest I have read maybe five pages on the topic. Why? Well firstly I am a sibling myself – the eldest of three to be exact. So I do know what it is like. Plus one of the areas of personal growth I have experienced since becoming a Mum, is to simply go with the flow, trust myself and take things moment-by-moment.
Like I mentioned above I am the eldest of three children. My sister is two years younger than me. I don’t remember my Mum being pregnant, bringing home my sister or anything really until I was 3 years old and my sister was one. From that point I have an abundance of memories. My brother then came along a couple of weeks after I started kindergarten. I was 5, and so I do have the memories of my Mum being pregnant, feeling and listening to my baby sibling moving in her tummy, meeting my brother for the first time in hospital and helping to look after him. It is because of these two very different memories – or rather lack of memories when my sister was born – that I personally chose to have a bigger age gap than two years between my 2 children.
My kids are exactly 3.5 years apart in age. When I got pregnant I was busy running my own Family Day Care. So I got a lot of questions not only from my son, but also from all the other toddlers in my care. I found it a beautiful experience to share this with them, and they loved feeling my belly and asking “is the baby coming out yet?” As my son was 3, he was able to grasp in his own way that there was a baby growing in my tummy and when the baby was big enough it would come out. We would talk about what the baby would look like, what it would do and how excited my son was that he would have someone to play with.
To help prepare for their first introduction in hospital, I got my son to pick out a present for his new brother. I also got my older son a present that would be from the baby. When the day came I got my Mum to bring my son in and we hugged and spent time with him. When he was ready we introduced him to his new baby brother and they exchanged gifts. I thought it was very important for their initial meeting to have a give and receive exchange, and my son loved that experience. He asked a lot of questions about why the baby was now out and where he was going to go when we got home.
Once we did get home, my son was still trying to understand that he was no longer the only kid on the block in our house. There were times in the first few weeks where he would say things like “throw him in the bin,” “take him back to the hospital,” and “put him back in your tummy.” Throughout all these outbursts I remained empathetic and understanding of his feelings. I believe this helped greatly in curbing any jealousy because now 3 months later these two precious little boys love each other. As soon as the baby sees his older brother his face lights up, and his older brother loves interacting with him. It is also lovely to see that the way we treat my older son is shining through in the way he treats his brother. When little brother is upset, big brother will come running and gently stroke his face and say “your safe, I’m here.” It is so beautiful to watch and really melts my heart. I also feel so happy that when my older son does have a tantrum he never takes it out on his little brother. I don’t know if that will continue in the future, but I have hope and faith, as though they are both off to such a loving start in their brotherly relationship.
Some Sibling-Love Tips
Prepare Your Child/ren For the New Arrival
No matter how young your other child/ren are I would recommend preparing them for the arrival of their new sibling. This allows them to feel respected, part of the process and gives them some feelings of control over this change in their lives. Some ways you can do this is by answering their questions with age-appropriate responses; telling them stories; role-playing with teddies or dolls; sharing your own experiences if you have siblings.
Especially once the new baby has arrived, it is important to put aside time for just you and your other child. This will help to fill up their cup of connection with you, and there is less chance of sibling rivalry. What works for me and my son is once a day we will have special play time. I give my baby to a family member (most often my husband) to look after. I then set an alarm on my phone – this helps to avoid arguments and tantrums when it is time to move onto other things that need to be done. I always choose child-directed play. I feel this helps my son overcome any feelings of powerlessness he may be feeling about his new brother, or any other aspect of his life. Currently his favourite game is to pretend his bed is a boat that we sit on, he then asks me to choose a button (pretend) to push which makes us go faster or slower. These play sessions we set aside are so full of joy, presence and love that we both feel fulfilled when the alarm goes off. The amount of time changes day-by-day too depending on our other commitments. Sometimes I set the alarm for 10 minutes, other times 30 minutes. It doesn’t really matter to my son because children live in the present moment, and he knows that when that alarm goes off that special one-on-one playtime is over until the next day.
For years professionals have said “laughter is the best medicine” and that holds true for parenting as well. Laughter releases fear and pent up emotions from the body. One thing I will mention before continuing though is that this laughter must be initiated by the person/child, not forced on them through things such as tickling. While tickling generally makes most people laugh it is involuntary and if you pay attention to their body language over the laughing, you will realise that most people actually go rigid and attempt to push you away. This is because it has a tendency to make us feel powerless, most people don’t like being tickled, the laughing response is involuntary and the tickler believes the child like it. When, in fact, most of the time people don’t like being tickled.
The laughter I’m describing generally comes about through being goofy. You can play games with your children around their feelings of fear and anxiety about their new sibling. For example you and your partner can playfully pretend to fight over who gets to play with your child. This game can elicit lots of laughter form your child and help him to overcome feelings of jealousy.
Empathy & Compassion
I am a big advocate in these two values, especially when it comes to parenting. I find that my son moves on quicker from his feelings of jealousy, powerlessness and frustration surrounding his baby brother when I offer empathy and compassion for his feelings. For example when he said “put him in the bin.” Instead of saying how horrible he was for saying that, I empathised with him. “You must be feeling really upset to want your brother to be thrown in the bin.” “I hear how you want it to be just us again.” “Are you worried he is going to play with all your toys?” This helps my son feel understood, respected and validated. I believe it is these empathic responses that have helped him form such a loving relationship with his brother so quickly.
What were your techniques for introducing your new baby to your other child/ren? I would love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below.