Children react in different ways to the arrival of a newborn baby sibling. You might notice how they regress to earlier behaviours. They may start to suck their thumbs again, wet their pants, ask to suck from your breast or bottle, or use baby talk. Other children may withdraw, refusing to talk or play. Some children may even suggest taking the baby back to the hospital, or giving their new sibling away. Some children may take pride in being the “big one”, who can dress themselves, use the potty and help care for the baby. Be assured though that most behavioural problems of older siblings will simply disappear by the time your new arrival reaches 8 months of age.
The birth of a younger sibling will change the way you as a parent will act towards your first child- this is completely normal. You will be less likely to play regularly with your first child, to be less sensitive to his or her interests, to give more orders, to have more confrontations and to initiate fewer conversations and games. This is perfectly normal, mom. The extent of these changes often also depends on your older child’s personality. If your child is the type of child that will take the initiative by coming up to you to start a conversation or play a game, she will be less likely to have a problem with sibling rivalry than if she withdraws.
Unfortunately there is conflicting research out there on how to help your older child adjust to their new sibling. However here are some hints from psychologists on how to minimise the adjustment for your older child:
- Prepare your older child for the birth of the new baby and to make any changes in your older child’s life (like moving them to another bedroom or from a cot to a bed, or starting crèche/pre-primary school) well beforehand to minimise their feelings of being displaced by the new arrival.
- Accept your older child’s jealousy and anxiety as normal, whilst at the same time protecting your new baby form any harmful expression of those feelings.
- Try and encourage your older child to play and help with the new baby.
- Emphasize how much you value your older child.
- Finally, dads are also important in helping older siblings adjust better if they give extra time and attention to them to make up for mommy’s sudden involvement with the new baby.
- Use the time in your pregnancy wisely… whilst cooking it is a good idea to have your child with you and make cooking time your special moments – even after the new baby has arrived this could still be your special time….
What about sibling rivalry?
The interaction between siblings is complex, swaddled in layers of contradictory emotions. Your new baby will start interacting with their older siblings after the first six months. In fact, one year olds spend almost as much time with their siblings as they do with their mothers and far more time with their siblings than with their fathers. In many countries, including our own, older siblings often have considerable responsibility for taking care of the babies, especially if when the older siblings are already 4 or 5 years older than their younger sibling.
Be assured mom and dad that generally brothers and sisters get along well! Older siblings have been shown to initiate both positive and negative behaviours, while the younger siblings will often imitate more. Older boys are often more aggressive whilst older girls are more likely to share, co-operate and hug. Sibling interactions are usually varied and most of the time not based on rivalry. So whilst sibling rivalry may occasionally be present, so is genuine affection. Young children often become quite attached to their older brothers and sisters. Babies will become upset when their siblings go away, will greet them when they come back, often prefer them as playmates and go to them for security when strangers are around.
Your relationship with your child is very important in shaping your childrens’ sibling bonds. The more securely attached your baby and your other child is to you, the better they will get along with each other. Your older child will be less jealous when you play with the new arrival and will show less aggression toward either you or their younger sibling if you have a good attachment and bond with them. It is thus important to spend time with both children individually and together to maintain the bonds you have created. Find fun ways to spend time with each child and together as a family (See below for some great ideas).
FUN WAYS TO SPEND TIME TOGETHER
Cook together – Get your older child to help you prepare the food for both the family and the baby. Remember: Encourage them and let them know how much you appreciate them.
Bake together- Your children will love a good bake-off! The more flour and goodies the better.
Read together- Read bed time stories to your children together. Get each child to alternatively choose the book of the evening. This will encourage them to learn more about each other’s interest and build their bond even more.
Reading and telling stories – Get your older child to read to their younger sibling if they are old enough or to tell their younger sibling a story if they are younger.
Bath time- Bath time is always a fun time to bond. Find some bath toys and let the siblings have fun together in the tub!
Sand Pit- Find a small sand pit and let the siblings play together in the sand with some toys. Encourage your older child to show his younger sibling how to build fun things in the sand.
Finally, it is important to remember that the environment you create for your children as siblings not only affects their future relationship but it also affects each other’s personality development as well. For example, it has also been shown that children who have close relationships with their siblings are better able to understand another person’s viewpoint than are children who do not have these relationships. By encouraging a good sibling relationship you can ensure that your children will have benefits that exceed those within the family dynamic into their later years.