Many parents connected with me to share their concerns about sibling rivalry between their young children? When spoke to them at length, I found out that parents were not understanding basic psychological needs of a first child. In that process, they missed out to build an emotional connection and ran into many problems after the arrival of the another child in family.
Sibling rivalry is a problem for every family. Siblings compete not only for physical resources but they also get feeling of reduced time and attention from parents.
That’s why the most important thing you can do to diminish sibling rivalry is to make sure that each child know that no matter how much love & attention the other sibling get, there is always more than enough love for them.
So if you’re pregnant and you have another child (or two), here are some tips to reduce sibling rivalry and foster a close sibling bond right from the start of your second pregnancy.
· Allow the elder child to express his full range of feelings throughout the pregnancy and afterwards.
· Naturally first child will feel some jealousy as all the time you and other family members are now giving more attention to the new baby.
· Responding with empathy to first child is very important.
· Reassure him with your words and actions that you like & love him too.
· Make sure to spend “special” time just with first child each day in your buzy routine with second child.
· While it’s fine to emphasize the advantages of being older, it’s good to reassure him that he is always your baby too, and continue caring him like a baby on some occasions.
· Some older child want to “play” like a baby at times, and that’s fine. He won’t become small baby forever.
· Encourage the relationship between the older child and your partner throughout the pregnancy when you are not available due to health condition or any other priorities.
· When you are buzy nursing the new baby most of the time, ensure your older child find ways to get excited about spending time with other parent.
· Build your elder child’s connection with the new baby by involving them in different ways:
1. Often mention “Our baby” or “Your sister” or even “Your baby.” The more ownership they feel, the less they feel out of the family and they will feel and express less jealousy over a period of time
2. Sharing some information about childbirth and his role in future to welcome new sibling
3. Once in a while take him with you to the doctor to hear the baby’s heartbeat.
4. Allow him to help in preparation to welcome new baby’s needs like additional furniture, toys and clothes or decorate the room
5. Discuss potential baby names together
6. Prepare a bag together for the hospital that includes a photo of elder child to keep beside the bed.
· Let your elder child know, he still has an important role in the family.
· Many children find themselves lost when lot of time and attention is given to new baby. Often he/she will be addressed, “Now you are big sister/brother” , “You should understand ________”. Come on, he is still small too as he has not grown up fully.
Remember parents, the elder child is also an individual who contributes to the family just by being herself. Do not forget to reinforce all the wonderful things about the elder child , “Rita, I love the way you make me laugh,” or “Rahul, I love the way you help me with the setting up our cupboard!!!!”
Please identify and make a note of specific contributions your elder child is doing in home. Help your child to develop a sense of why he’s still a valuable member of the family.
Talk often about the fact that each member of the family is important in their own way and makes their own special contribution. The family needs each person for it to be whole.
If there is a less gap between two children, let the elder child know in advance through regular communication and teaching that he needs to consider these new routines once new baby arrives in family. As new baby will have his/her new routine so it should not get into habits of doing certain things by elder child.
Each parent need to build a special relationship with older child to make him feel as affectionate as possible. This will reduce future power struggles and conflicts between sibling.
Elder child needs to feel secured in your love to handle the arrival of a new baby /sibling with calm and composed attitude. However, many times elder child will test your patience to confirm you still love her/him like earlier.
Whenever you praise new baby’s actions, reconnect with older child’s wonderful memories too but not in comparison way. Many parents make serious mistakes here by mentioning developmental phase of elder child. Remember, each child has different growth path in terms of walking, talking, first teeth etc. Enjoy the uniqueness. However if you see some major concerns, do connect with your child expert for medical intervention if any.
Look for an opportunity for your child to discuss his or her feelings about having a new brother or sister. Make sure your elder child understands that babies cry a lot at first and aren’t ready to play for a long time, but that the baby will always look up to big brother/sister and want his attention and care.
Remember, it can be a difficult time for the older child to stay alone with another family member in your absence. Ensure that child get an opportunity to spend enough time with you. Also make aware the other family members about certain key habits of the child to manage them easily.
If possible, ensure your elder child get to see the baby first, before other visitors. Emphasize your joy at seeing him, rather than your preoccupation with the new baby. Then let him sit and hold the baby, helping him to learn that how important it is to support new baby’s head.
Dr. Lawrence Aber, a bonding expert, says that babies’ heads give off pheromones, and when we inhale them, we fall in love, and begin to feel protective. The more your older child snuggles his new sibling, the better their relationship is likely to be.
Also mention to close relatives and family members to give presents to older child also instead of just gifting to only “new baby”. It will help your oldest to feel like there’s indeed something to celebrate.
How to involve a first child while nurturing second child when you are at home?
· Let the elder child watch carefully for initial 2-3 weeks once new baby arrives in family
· Encourage elder child to show care for mother and baby in safe ways
· Seek help from elder child to get all the things from around in the house while baby is getting oil massage, bath, nappy changing, making baby sleep, requesting to make less noise while playing
· Do not avoid or ignore the presence of elder child and give all the time and attention to new baby
· If you fail to give required attention to elder child, he develops a feeling that new child has taken away her mother.
· Elder child feel left out as naturally mother give more attention to new baby who is helpless. If this happens, elder child starts making mistakes and behave in an unaccepted way eg. Demonstrate undesirable behaviors like spilling more food so he gets more attention from the mother. Invariably tries to make mistakes like a baby to get similar attention like new baby.
· Over a period of time, Elder child also observes how mother and father fulfils younger child’s demands as he/she is growing vis-à-vis.
Reference: Self experience, Reading article of Dr. Laura