Bonding with a new sibling can begin well before the baby is born and may well avert some rivalry issues.
How soon you explain to your older child that you are having a baby is your own choice but do remember that hearing from people outside the family can make your child feel excluded and this is not a good basis for sibling harmony.
For younger children with little sense of time, it is best to link the birth to an event they do understand such as “after Christmas” or “before your next birthday” or “around the time we have our Easter eggs.”
Meanwhile, sharing your pregnancy with your older child(ren) can help their understanding of this miraculous process and will encourage bonding.
Whether your child is present at a sibling’s birth, is close by to greet the newborn, or visits several hours later, is a deeply personal choice that depends on your own and your child’s needs, but how you talk to your daughter about birth can leave lasting impressions – you can convey the power and creativity of the female body, or you can conjure up fears of powerlessness, pain and exclusion….
7 Tips to Prepare Your Child Before the Birth
1). Encourage your child to ‘cuddle’ the baby, talk and sing to it, and feel it moving, perhaps guessing which body part is moving (do you think that is a foot or a hand – or is it his bottom wriggling?).
2). Little children may enjoy joining in prenatal exercises or yoga.
3). Role play with dolls – especially a pregnant doll or a baby doll can stimulate discussion about birth and the needs of a newborn e.g. “when you were a baby…” or “the baby will be too little to eat food like you so he will drink milk from Mummy’s breasts just like you used to when you were a baby
4). Take your child to visit a friend with a newborn for a look at the reality of life with a baby.
5). Looking at picture books that show the various stages of in utero development can be fun as you point out things like ‘our baby is this big now’
6). Take your child with you for antenatal checkups and let her listen to the baby’s heartbeat and (in the later stages) ‘help’ the midwife or obstetrician feel the baby’s position.
7). As your baby’s birth day approaches, appropriate jobs can be delegated to older children: choosing and preparing clothes for the baby; helping to write a list of names and phone numbers to call and announce the baby’s birth; giving mum backrubs or ice cubes to suck during labour; even taking photos or a birth video.
Imagine: Your partner has just brought home a new lover and announced that you are all going to live together. It will be fun!! After hearing that you and the new lover will be loved equally by your partner, you are asked to share your things (all of them). It also turns out that you won’t be getting as much attention as you used to because the new lover is a bit upset about something and anyway you are such a clever person, you can do lots of things. by yourself, now. Oh, and by the way, you must be gentle with the new lover! Is it any wonder your older child feels displaced?
Some Suggestions After the Birth
. Give your older child a small album of photos taken when he was a baby, and chat about them with him. This can be a great time to mention, "when you used to cry, we gave you lots of ..."
. Let your older children help while you feed, change, wash, hold or massage the baby – it might be more ‘helpful’ to give your older child a doll so that she can feed and dress ‘her’ baby while you attend to the real one.
. Set up a corner for feeding and crying times, with special things to occupy your older child: snacks and drinks (make up a lunch box in quiet times and keep it in the fridge for when baby feeds or crying times intrude on toddler meal times – life is easier if your older child’s blood sugar levels are stable), story books, playing cards, paper dolls, scrap book and crayons, a tape recorder with story tapes or blank tapes for your child to record and play back his own stories, funny voices, songs, or pop a few interesting little things like cards or matchbox toys (and perhaps a small snack pack or juice box) into brown paper lunch bags and bring out a surprise bag as a diversion for desperate moments.
. Make an effort to notice and encourage your older child’s positive behaviour.
. When the baby is contented, or perhaps as he (finally) dozes off to sleep, tell the baby (within earshot of the older sibling) that you and your older child are going to do something special together – paint a picture, play with play-dough, have a swing, but babies are MUCH too little for such a fun activity.
. Don’t give the baby treasured items – favourite blankets, or toys of firstborn.
. Introduce changes (such as moving from a cot to a bed, or starting preschool) either well before the baby arrives or several months later. A new baby and the ensuing family upheaval is enough adjustment at one time -- even for parents!
. Regression and resentment are normal reactions to the shift in your attention from your older child to the ‘disruptive’ newcomer. Let the child talk honestly about her feelings and remember, the less lovable your “big” child is behaving, the more she will need cuddles and support, but make it clear that it is not acceptable to hurt the baby.
Adapted and inspired from an article by Pinky McKay, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), infant massage instructor, mother of five who writes for BellyBelly.com. – The Thinking Woman’s Website For Conception, Pregnancy, Birth and Baby.