The news of a baby’s arrival is always a momentous and happy occasion, and is greeted with joy and celebration in the family. It is a time of great preparation, not only for the mother-to-be, but also for the first child. Parents have to prepare the older child for the arrival of a younger brother or sister, so he is ready to welcome his younger sibling.
Sometimes, your child may react with joy, sometimes with anger, or sometimes, may even seem to withdraw into himself. Do not panic. It is normal. A three-year-old may take some time to welcome the new addition into his family, while a five-year-old may be slightly more mature emotionally.
Your challenge as a parent-to -be is to prepare your child to accept and welcome the new addition to the family. Here are a few tips to help you prepare your child for a sibling’s arrival:
Share the news of pregnancy with your firstborn
According to Dr Sumati Manjunath, a paediatrician formerly with VeeCare Hospitals in Chennai, it is up to you to decide the right time to inform your toddler or preschooler about the new member.
“Most little children have trouble understanding what pregnanccy means, but you can pacify and assuage their doubts by telling them that a new baby is due somewhere around New Year, or sometime during the summer vacation. The trick is to give them enough time to prepare for this event mentally. Naturally, your toddler would want to know where the new baby is coming from. You don’t need to give a long-winded answer. It would suffice to say ‘from inside mummy’s tummy’,” she explains.
Handle your older child’s mood swings
Be willing to accommodate your older child’s occasional moodiness.
“Be extra caring, understanding and loving and never ever make your elder child feel deprived of your love and attention. Give your child a free rein to express his anger, worries or mood fluctuations. Be patient through it all. It will tide over in no time,” says Sunitha Krishnan, a clinical psychologist based in Chennai.
Show how siblings mean fun
Get books from which you can read aloud to your child about happy families, where there are lots of brothers and sisters. Hold her close to you while you read together. Bit by bit, instil in your child that it is a great idea to have a brother/sister as a playmate, and your child can look forward to lots of fun times together.
Talk about your own childhood and regale them with instances when you had great fun with your siblings. Your child will be able to better relate to stories of how her parents and various aunts and uncles had fun together as children.
Sindhu Uma Shankar, a mom based in Kochi, says, “My daughter Malu listened wide-eyed to me when I read out Hansel and Gretel to her. Then my son Madhav butted in, ‘See? Since you have me, I can easily rescue you from a bad witch’!”
Shop for baby supplies together
Whenever you have time, involve your child in choosing tiny clothes for the new baby. Cuddle, hug your child and show her photos as a baby. When you involve your child in carefully choosing things for the new baby, it will help instil in her a sense of belonging, responsibility and importance.
“Go through your child’s toy collection and ask what she would like to share with the new baby. This way, she won’t be taken off guard later on, when she has to share them with her sibling. Also, involve your child in selecting the baby’s name. Do all that you can to keep your child involved in the process so that she continues to feel important in the family. Make your child feel that the life of the sibling is something that she should be very much a part of,” adds Dr Manjunath.
Boost your older child’s ego
Just because you need to spend more time with your new baby, do not rush to move your older child to a new room.
“That will make him feel unwanted or neglected. Place a crib in your bedroom and let the new baby sleep in it, while your older one lies cuddled up next to you. A few days down the line, your toddler himself would want to act ‘grown up’ and will allow you to care more for the new baby,” assures Dr Manjula Datta, a paediatrician at Aspire Clinic in Chennai.
According to Krishnan, preschoolers and toddlers tend to be a bit self-centred as they are still learning the ropes about getting on in the world.
“So feed your child’s ego by talking to others in his presence about what a great help he is in preparing for the new baby’s arrival. Whenever you decorate the nursery for the new baby, enlist your toddler’s help and seek his advice. Also, redo his bedroom or study room, according to his taste so that he feels flattered. You are giving out signs that your firstborn is very important and that you value his opinion and preferences,” she adds.
Kochi-based Sailaja Jeevan, a mother of two children who are in their twenties now, remembers how she prepared her daughter for a sibling’s arrival.
“When my daughter Sarika was three-and-a-half years old, I was pregnant for the second time. I used to take her to my sister-in-law’s place. My sister-in-law had already had a second baby and my daughter Sarika would watch her older cousin Nishi hold her little sister Nimmi and play the big sister. Sarika would pitch in and both the cousins would play with the little one. This helped in making my daughter accept her sibling.”
You can allow your firstborn to be the first member of the family to meet the new baby and welcome it into your family.
“Let the first meeting or interaction be limited to your immediate family. Only then will you be able to connect well with your child’s feelings. Naturally, it will be an overwhelming time for your child. When visitors are allowed, allow your toddler to play host and allow her to introduce the baby to the others,” says Krishnan.
Dr Datta too shares the same sentiment.
“A new baby is always a cause for celebration. And naturally, the new baby will have lots of gifts coming her way. Stock up on small gifts like a picture book, a soft toy, a set of crayons, or a chocolate bar for your firstborn. Then your toddler would never ever feel neglected. Insist that the gift was bought by the new baby. Indulge in a little fanciful play. Children love pretend games. It will help you bond together more as a family,” she adds.
Your older kid may sometimes insist on wanting to drink milk from the baby’s bottle, or engage in baby talk to gain attention.
“This just reveals his anxiety and insecurity. Just keep assuring your child that nothing has changed and heap praise on her and give her extra hugs,” adds Dr Datta.
Aruna Manimaran, a Chennai mom, talks happily about her sons – Varun (9) and Rishi (6).
“Varun used to love helping Rishi get dressed and used to love pushing him in the pram. He also loved helping feed the baby Cerelac. If Rishi made a fuss and refused to eat more, Varun was only too happy to gobble it up!”
Aruna continues, “I used to have my parents spend time with Varun. He used to feel so important that his grandpa was taking time to discuss his school, friends and other activities with him. I owe it big time to my dad, who helped Varun feel that he was not only getting a new sibling, but also gaining a lifelong buddy.”
Bonding between differently-abled siblings
If there are differently-abled siblings in the family, then too there is a fair share of relationship issues and unique upheavals.
“If the new baby is born differently-abled, parents should take care to educate their firstborn on the situation. But most often, children, being wiser than some adults, nurture no preconceived notions and take to their sibling like fish to water. They intuitively feel that they need to reach out to their younger one. In fact, they learn to be more compassionate, kind and caring,” says Dr Manjunath.
The early sibling bonding will ensure that they have a harmonious relationship later.
Vinita Preman, based in Bengaluru, has two siblings – Sreekala and Rajesh. Sreekala, the middle one, was diagnosed with a mild mental retardation at a very young age. But neither Vinita nor Rajesh, the youngest one, feel that they have been deprived of their parents’ love and affection.
“We have accepted Sree as our very special sister and we lavish love on her. Yes, we did have sibling squabbles but it was more fun than anything serious. I do take care of my sister and have never felt her to be a ‘liability’,” says Vinita.
Vinita’s sister Sreekala is now a married young woman. “Sree loves kids and spends time telling tales to small kids around our apartment. She has an innate knack of being able to spin yarns in her head,” says Vinita.
According to Dr Datta, children with differently-abled siblings are more sensitive and caring than other children of their age.
“They also tend to be more accepting of other people’s differences,” she adds. When parents tend to be more attentive towards their differently-abled child, this may lead to sibling rivalry.
“The elder child may feel ignored, and this should not happen. This will lead to attention-seeking behaviour and temper tantrums. Parents should take turns at lavishing attention and affection on the eldest child. In case you notice signs of aggression or depression in your child, never let it slide. They have to be addressed,” Dr Datta adds.
“Sree used to be mildly aggressive with our Rajesh. When she was a child, she used to bite and hit him, but thankfully, my parents were able to get Rajesh to understand and be tolerant and gentle with Sree. Now we are all grown up and married, yet Rajesh has a soft corner for Sree, and takes care of her and spends time with her whenever possible,” explains Vinita.
With these tips, you will be able to reassure your older child of your love and also prepare him for the role of a big sister or brother with ease!