Friday, October 10, 2008

Helping Big Sister/Brother Transition

With your first pregnancy you wonder how you're going to be able to handle a crying, pooping needy baby. With your second pregnancy, you wonder how your first child is going to handle being "replaced" by a crying, pooping, needy baby. My daughter ruled the roost back in the day. Not just being spoiled by her loving parents but she had both sets of grandparents and several aunts and uncles in town to dote over her with no other grandkids to compete. Spoiled doesn't even begin to describe Queen Emma! Needless to say I was more than a little concerned how Emma would handle us adding another child to her perfect little kingdom.

The big day came and Emma was taken to Grandma's while we went off to change Emma's life forever. Emma came to the hospital with the family but was sleeping when she arrived so I laid her on my bed. When she finally awoke she was a little disoriented and I tried to slowly ease her into her environment, talking to her, offering her some food. All of a sudden we heard a baby cry. Emma sat up and warily asked, "baby?" My husband and I smiled reassuringly and told her there was someone we wanted her to meet. I went over and picked the little bundle out of his bassinet and started to carry him to Emma. Emma cried out, "Momma, noooo!" and ran out of the room crying. She felt betrayed as she realized what Mom was talking about all those months as she snuggled Momma's belly and talked about having a baby. Her Nana caught her in the hallway and calmed her back down. It wasn't exactly the magical moment we were hoping for. But you know what, it worked out. She allowed him to come home with us and didn't have to go in for counseling. She turned out to be a pretty loving big sister and didn't get overly jealous. Sorry I can't calm your fears of baby #2 by telling you Emma was instantly in love but just know that people adjust. Yeah, it could be a little ugly for awhile but you adjust, your kids adjust and soon you can't imagine life without two kids. I will say however that when #3 came along #2 was 18 months and he handled it quite well.

So here's a few things you might consider doing to help your child through what might be a hard time for them (most of which I'm sure you've heard but I'll repeat for anyone that hasn't):
1. Talk about the perks of being a big kid. Think of all the great things they get to do now that they couldn't do before-like the foods they can eat, the games they can play, etc. Talk about the unique qualities and important milestones your child has reached. They'll have lots of great experience to share and teach.
2. Get excited about being the big sister/brother. This is one I feel you have to be careful about though. If you talk about how fun it will be to play with their new sibling you may set them up for disappoint when they get the baby and all he does is sleep and eat. Be realistic when you talk about what they're going to do with a new baby. Also, be careful selling the whole "Momma's big helper" bit. Not that encouraging them to be a helper is bad but don't put the label of "Baby's servant" on if they're already feeling cut out. Remember the goal is to put the focus on your child and their contributions.
3. Encourage more independence. Early in my pregnancy with my third I started teaching my son (who was still a baby himself) to do more things on his own. I didn't want him to feel that he was being forced to grow up because of this baby (or mom's belly). I moved him out of his crib early, let him walk everywhere (before I got too uncomfortable to carry him), and taught him how to climb the stairs to our condo with just a hand to hold. I felt I did it early and slowly enough that he never viewed it as neglect or connected it to the baby.
4. Baby gifts- When the baby comes they need to "give" a gift to their older sibling. A "thank you for letting me join your family" gift if you will. This can be an awesome toy that will distract them from feeling neglected for awhile, but preferrably not a noisy one that will cause the baby to cry. For my daughter I got a child-sized rocking chair for her to rock her baby while I rocked mine. I like the idea of making this gift one that will help them be a good sister/brother. Maybe a sock puppet to entertain, or a Baby Einstein movie they can watch together.
5. Baby time is toddler time first. When discussing an activity for the baby mention what's in it for your toddler first. "Let's read a story while baby eats (nurses)." "Weston gets a snack while Andrew gets a diaper change." "You get to color while I put the baby in bed." Keep some books on the couch so you can have your child sit next to you and read while you nurse.
6. Allow ownership and interaction. When Weston was new I was very wary of my daughter getting too close. I was worried about her poking out his eyes or stroking too forcefully. I felt it my duty as his mother to protect him from rambunctious toddlers. When Andrew was born I realized what that may have done to the relationship. I allowed Weston to gently explore the baby and to stroke and love in his own appropriate ways. Remind them to be gentle but do it in ways that are positive and non-judmental. So, instead of "Make sure you're nice to the baby," say something like, "Oh, are you going to soft the baby? You're such a nice brother!" or "Andrew loves his big brother. Look how nice you're being." Point out how much the baby loves and appreciates their big brother and pretend that every smile and contented sigh is just for them. They need to know that this is their baby too and that families are about loving each other and that goes both ways. That's the beauty of babies: they don't love you because you do everything right, they love you because you're theirs.
Anyone else have a good story or advice to share? Or even "if I were going to do it over again..." Posted by Picasa


shayla said...

I'm really starting to get nervous about this transition (baby #2 arrives in 2 weeks and I have a son who is 21 months). We've tried to prepare him as much as we can by talking about it and showing him what things belong to baby, etc. We've been reading him "I'm a Big Brother" every night and calling him Big Brother Brighton a few times a day. I have no idea how much he understands, but I don't think he'll be too overly surprised when a baby shows up out of nowhere. he'll treat the baby is a different story. My prediction is that he'll try to push the baby away while saying "no" over and over again (somewhat similar to Emma's reaction).

I will definitely gobble up all of this advice you've given. Especially #5 and #6. Hadn't really thought of either of those. And I'll be on the lookout for gift from baby.

Wish me luck!

Gina Rochelle said...

Man, I wish I was there to take Brighton out for some special Aunt and cousin bonding time when 2.0 arrives! You guys are so good and he's a sweetie so don't sweat it. Besides if he could handle and love Weston's craziness a helpless baby will be nothing. Good luck!

Jodi Jean said...

excellent ideas. we've been adjusting around here, but i'll have o implement some of the tips!

he's generally really good, and just wants to hug and kiss her over and over, and then he'll freak out about something and try to kick her, pull her leg out, or punch her in the face (yup, he totally punched her yesterday!!)