Welcoming Your Second Baby: 5 Ways to Support Your First Child Through the Transition
For the first couple months after his brother was born, my older son, H, did surprisingly well. No major meltdowns or crazy behaviors, he even seemed kind of excited about having a brother. I was shocked!
Then, about two months in, things took a turn. I saw the writing on the wall when he looked at me and casually asked, "Mommy, when is Baby C leaving?"
Child and family therapist, Barbara Olinger, explains, "All children have at least some ambivalent feelings toward the new sibling, with the potential for a great deal of vacillating emotion."
Let's just say that for the next couple months, H definitely had some "ambivalent" feelings towards his new sibling.
No matter which way you slice it, going from the center of your attention and your universe to having to share your attention with an adorable little person whom everyone constantly gushes over, just plain sucks. It's a lot to process, as your firstborn child will most certainly let you know!
Luckily (for all of us!), I had Barbara to consult with when things got hairy. Here are 5 things she taught me that helped H weather the storm of becoming a big brother:
1. Get your first involved and give him "the plan." Bring your firstborn with you to doctor appointments, have him feel your stomach when the baby kicks, involve him in getting the baby's room ready, let him pick out some baby clothes/toys/blankets that the baby might like. Read books about becoming a big brother/sister and talk about ways he can help when the baby comes home. The more he's included, the more "in control" he'll feel which will help ease some of his anxiety.
As the birth approaches, give him "the plan" for the baby's birth: Who will be staying with him when you go to the hospital? What will happen if you go into labor during the day versus at night? How long do you expect to stay in the hospital etc.? Be sure to explain that births can have "surprises" and that the plan is subject to change- you might be in the hospital a little longer, or you might have to go to the hospital sooner than you think.
Here are some of our favorite "becoming a sibling" books:
2. Make a book. This is something I would have never thought of and was so grateful for Barbara's suggestion. Here's what you'll need:
- Several photographs of your child from birth to present
- Construction paper
- Glue or tape
- A stapler
Glue or tape one photograph per construction paper and add written memories under each photo. Arrange the pages in chronological order, then staple them together and Voila! You've got a nifty little baby book starring your firstborn.
Barbara explains that this is a wonderful way "for children to keep track of their personal histories while giving them visual context and reminding them that they were once infants who developed over time." AND, hearing you read your memories of them as a baby makes them feel extra special and loved.
3. Normalize his feelings. It's one hundred percent normal and to be expected for firstborns to have a wide range of feelings towards their new sibling- excitement, anger, sadness, confusion. Again, it's a lot for them to process.
It's important that they're given permission to feel all of their feelings, especially the "negative" ones.
When kids aren't allowed to express their "negative" feelings, they will supress them, only to express them later through challenging behaviors. So, when your firstborn exclaims, "I HATE my brother!" instead of saying, "Honey, we don't say things like that!" or "No you don't, you love your brother," opt for something like, "It's hard to be a big brother," or "It's ok to feel angry about having a new sister, it's hard to share mommy's attention."
Here are a few more normalizing responses to your firstborns less than thrilled reaction to his sibling:
"A lot of kids have two feelings about becoming a sibling. One is that they're excited to be a big brother and the other is that they're sad to share mommy and daddy's attention. It's ok to have two feelings." (taken from Becoming a Big Sibling)
"You wish you could have all of mommy's attention and I wish I could give it to you."
"Sometimes having a baby sister is no fun."
4. No major changes for two months before or after the birth. Since becoming a sibling is one of the biggest transitions your firstborn will ever go through, as the birth approaches, it's best to hold off on any others, including: potty training, moving, introducing a new sitter, and changing bedrooms, schools and morning/bedtime routines.
5. Increase "Special Time." Special Time is a daily scheduled and specified amount of uninterrupted one-on-one time with your child and it's your number one, most important, go-to intervention for easing your firstborn's angst about his new sibling.
This is a tall order (putting it mildly!) given that you have another tiny human who needs you around the clock. But, even ten minutes a day will make a dramatic difference in your firstborns behavior. CLICK HERE for details on exactly how to plan and orchestrate Special Time.
Putting these strategies in place made a world of difference for our family. We still struggled with the transition, but H's challenging behaviors were pretty short-lived in the grand scheme of things.
Know this: Your firstborn child WILL fall apart in the aftermath of becoming a big brother/sister.
It's unavoidable and to be expected. But, using these strategies will help make those oh my gosh, what in the hell is happening right now moments more manageable and less frequent.
For more tips, I recommend reading Barbara's book, Growing from the Roots. She's a wealth of wisdom and the book is full of practical tips for making parenting more enjoyable.
If you've just had your second baby, let us know how it's going, how your firstborn is doing with the transition and what you've done that's helped. Leave your comments below, the Sensory Mom community and I would love to hear from you!