I recently received an e-mail from a reader, Mia, who asks the following question:
After 5 and a half years of Sharon being an only child, getting our full attention …we are now having another child. A lot of people have suggested that she must be given tasks and encouraged to be the BIG sister and ask her to help me with baby, as this will make her feel important … I’m not too sure about this. I want her to remain being herself and baby to be baby!
Any suggestions of how to introduce the new baby to my daughter and how to create a good sibling relationship from early on and maintain my daughter’s sense of self! (not as the big sister but as herself)?
The real joy about having siblings is the relationship they have – or will have in the future – with one another. There are inevitable losses for an older child when a new baby is born, and some of them do struggle with the adjustment and with the rivalry that it evokes. But Mia’s daughter has had the benefit of over 5 years of focused attention, and she will no doubt have gained so much self- esteem from that.
My suggestion, if you are pregnant with your second (or third or fourth…) is to spend time talking to your child about the new baby brother or sister and listening to how she feels about it. Encourage your child to say or to think about not only the good things about the new baby, but the bad things as well. Remind her that there will be times when it will be hard for her because babies do need a lot of care and they take up loads of time. Owning up to negative feelings, without judgement or rejection, is vital for children. Once they have expressed their worries and their unhappiness about getting less attention, they can move on to develop a real relationship with new sibling without carrying unconscious feelings of anger and resentment.
Remember, where possible, not to pass on sentimental and meaningful belongings from your older child’s collection to the new baby without her agreement. See how she feels about sharing her toys and old things with the new baby. Be sensitive too about how she feels about sharing her physical sleeping and playing space with the new baby and try to accommodate to her needs where you can.
You may not be able to manage your time fairly between your children once the new baby arrives. This is hard for everyone and it is a balancing act that is a challenge for most parents. Your older child may feel left out and even unloved at times. It is your job to recognize this when it happens and to think together with her about how to make her feel more special.
A last note to Mia: Make sure your daughter has a doll or toy baby animal so that she can take care of her baby, change her, feed her and walk her in the pram, while you take care of yours. If she is interested in helping you with aspects of baby-care, that is great, but don’t push it if she resists.
When times get tough with juggling older children and a new baby, remember that one of the great gifts you will have given your child is the blessing of a sibling!
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