If you’re expecting a new addition to the family, congratulations! Welcome to another round of dirty diapers, late-night feedings and sleepless nights, but also new joys, daily discoveries and precious times with your little one!
Becoming parents the second time round can be a tad easier, because you have the benefit of experience, but only slightly so. Every child is unique in personality and may have different idiosyncrasies you need to adapt to. That said, probably one big question weighing on your mind is “How can I prepare my child for his sibling?” I know, because I’ve been there, thought that, and spent many a sleepless night tossing and turning over it.
If your first child is still relatively young, you may be especially concerned about how to help him or her understand that a baby is coming. We’ve all heard horror stories of older siblings who hurt their baby brother or sister because they were jealous of all the attention being paid to number two. Or perhaps we have witnessed exhausted parents with squabbling kids in tow at the mall on some occasions. We quiver with fear and earnestly pray that our kids won’t be like that – that they’ll be loving and caring for one another, and that Junior won’t feel resentful towards the new arrival in any way.
Every baby book you read will tell you that any young child is going to feel some level of jealousy when your second one arrives. Sibling rivalry is often only a natural expression of their need for love and attention. In fact, according to baby experts William and Martha Sears, a new baby in the home can bring up a wide range of feelings in your older child, including joy, fear, excitement, curiosity, jealousy, hurt and anger. Our job as parents is not to suppress, ignore or shame these feelings, but to understand and validate our child’s emotional experience of the new arrival. In the process, we can foster meaningful conversations with our child, teach him to understand his emotions, build the parent-child bond and encourage him to welcome his little brother or sister into the family.
You are now officially a Big Brother/Sister!
Let your child know that he has been ‘promoted’ to being a big brother (or big sister for a girl), which is a new and special role for him. Emphasize that as the elder one, he can be a ‘big helper’ to Daddy and Mummy in helping to care for ‘didi’ or ‘meimei’. And this can start from way before the baby is born. Even a young toddler can help Mummy to stuff the washing machine with clothes before baby is due. Or help to choose which bed sheet to lay in the cot. He can also help to sort through his old toys and books and select the best ones for his sibling to play with.
Later on, when baby is born, your child can free your hands up by playing with didi or meimei, or helping to hold the milk bottle for a feed. Do note, however, that it is unwise to leave an infant alone with a toddler or young child, even for a few minutes. You can also help your child to understand that a baby is on the way by talking about the new arrival often, even from the moment you find out you are expecting! Don’t think that your toddler is too young to understand – children are surprisingly adept at picking up.
There are many books available for all ages, which you can read to your child to help him understand what a having a new baby will be like for your family. For toddlers, two books I highly recommend are “What Baby Needs” and “I’m A Big Brother” (or “I’m A Big Sister”), which really helped in preparing my own son for his younger brother.
Involve Your Child
Involve your eldest in all manner of preparation for the baby’s arrival. Bring him along to your gynae appointments so he can see baby on the ultrasound. As you prepare the sterilizer, pump, cot and other paraphernalia, tell him how he used to need all these things too when he was an infant. Show him photos of himself when he was a newborn. Remind him how much you and Daddy love him, and will love didi or meimei too.
It might even be fun to do a project or two for baby with your child. Like choosing a piece of his art to frame up for the baby’s room. Or try making a “Welcome Home” banner together! Help your child give voice to the emotions he may be feeling or struggling with inside by observing how he reacts every time the subject of baby is brought up. Allow him to share his thoughts freely if he’s old enough to converse better. And, as often as possible, keep reminding him that the new baby is joining the family, not replacing his place in it in any way.
When your baby is born, you can prepare a gift or two for your eldest from his didi or meimei. This will help him not to feel left out as baby is bound to receive a lot of visitors and gifts the first few days/weeks. It would also be wise to ensure that the first time your child sees his baby brother or sister, is not with you or your husband cradling baby tenderly and whispering sweet nothings. Just for that moment when he first enters your hospital room, try to arrange it for baby to be carried by someone else, or to be lying in his crib.
Last but not least, be prepared for some bumps along the way, especially after baby number 2 comes home from the hospital, because every child is different and may react in unique ways to the new arrival.
Most importantly, let your child know that you and Daddy love him just as much as before, no matter what.
Here are more books to help your child welcome baby number two.
By Dorothea Chow
This article was first published in The New Age Parents online magazine Aug / Sep 2012 issue.