Love thy sibling

When I was around five months pregnant, my four year old son wrapped his little arms around my ever expanding waist, lifted his blond head up and looked me in the eyes and said “Mama, this is my baby sister, not yours. No-one’s allowed to touch her”. Then and there, I knew that I had trouble brewing.

What was I getting myself in for? Braedan had been my baby boy for four years, he was the baby of the family, and now another baby was coming into our home to invade his territory and take his place. He had become withdrawn, clingy and moody. No-one was allowed near my belly and any mention of the impending arrival would evoke temper tantrums.

It’s only natural that your older child will feel as though his new sibling is invading his space. He has, after all been the king of the home and a new baby would essentially dethrone him.

Eventually I was able to get Braedan excited about his baby sister’s arrival and my three children are very close today.

Here’s how you can do the same:

  • Explain to your child that a new baby is in your tummy
  • Show him how excited you are about the new arrival and get him excited about it too
  • Make a big deal about the fact that your child is going to be a big brother/sister
  • Take him to your ante-natal check-ups
  • Let him watch the scan
  • Let him touch your tummy and feel the baby move
  • Show him photo’s of when he was a baby
  • Allow him to choose and buy the new baby a gift or an item of clothing. Put that item in a prominent place in the baby’s room, so that your child can see it.
  • Show him where the baby is going to sleep
  • Talk to him about how he is going to help mommy bath the baby, change him, feed him and play with him
  • Get him to draw pictures for his baby and put them away until the baby’s arrival. Once baby is born, make a big fuss over your child as he shows his new sibling the special pictures
  • Make sure that while you get your child excited about the arrival of his new sibling, that you spend some alone-time with him, focusing on things that just the two of you like to do
  • Involve him in the naming process. Ask him if he likes the names that you have chosen.
  • Make sure that you disrupt his routine as little as possible
  • If Dad hasn’t spent much alone-time with your child before, get the two of them to do activities together, so that once baby is born, you’ll have alone-time to feed and bath the baby
  • Don’t make any unnecessary changes just before the baby is born. If you don’t absolutely have to put him into a ‘big kids bed’ or get him potty trained, then wait until he’s feeling a bit more secure.
  • Just before you go into hospital, explain to your child that you’ll be away for a few days and that when you get back he’ll be a big brother
  • Put a photo of you next to your child’s bed and write him a love letter, that his dad or granny can read to him when you’re in the hospital.

Once the baby is born:

  • If hospital rules allow, have your child visit you as often as he can
  • Don’t hold the baby in your arms, when your child first visits. Instead leave the baby in the crib, so that you are free to hold and cuddle your child, who will no doubt, be feeling a little insecure
  • Don’t immediately thrust the baby on your child. Rather leave her in the crib and allow your child to eye the baby out first. Once he’s comfortable, make your child sit on the bed and gently place the baby in his arms.
  • Praise your child for being such a big kid and give him lots of hugs and kisses
  • If you’d like to, give your child a special ‘present from the baby’
  • Leave the baby with your husband, mother or friend and go for a quiet walk with your older child – just the two of you
  • Don’t give your child lots of sweets, chips and fizzy drinks as treats. He’ll probably end up vomiting from the anxiety (it happened twice to me)
  • Keep a photo of your older child at your bedside, so that when he visits, he knows that you’ve been thinking of him
  • Dad, get your child involved in preparing the house for the baby’s home-coming. Get him to draw a ‘welcome home sign’.
  • Allow him to carry the baby’s bag from the hospital to the car
  • Allow him to open the door and introduce his baby to the family home and her room
  • When your friends and family come to meet your new arrival, ask them to say hello to your older child and make a fuss over him, before they’re introduced to the baby

Every child will react differently to the arrival of a new baby. Some may welcome the baby with open arms, others may react with anger and jealousy. It all depends on the child’s age and how you’ve prepared them. What’s also important is how you react to your older child’s actions, once the baby is born. If you’re stressed, your child will pick it up and play on your stress, becoming more demanding. If you’re relaxed (as much as any mom, with a newborn baby can be), your older child is likely to adjust to his new sibling better.

Lynne O’Connor is the mother of three very busy children; Ciaran (10), Braedan (6) and Ava (2)

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