These are words I fear maybe because in some way they are temporarily true….When you compare a non fussy , chubby baby batting her eyelashes at you dressed in the prettiest of pink clothes and giving you a heart warming smile,to a fussy, strong-willed five-year old who has a mind of his own, its tough to not bend a little on one side. You know which side….However there are ways and means to keep both kids secure and feel equally loved. Am sharing some of them with you that work well for our family. The source of these tips is mostly my grandmother who had four kids, the pediatrician and friends who came to my rescue.
- Mentally preparing the older sibling before the baby came … So my children have a gap of four years which helped me because my older one was mature enough to understand whats happening and independent in some of the stuff like eating, getting dressed etc. At the same time, he was old enough to know if he was not getting his due ! So I had to be V careful ! We prepped him up before the baby came with the following
- “You are going to be a Big Brother !”
- “You will be Mom’s Little Helper”
- The baby was referred to as ‘Your sister’ almost all the time
- You always wanted a sibling and you are getting one. You are a lucky guy !
- Lets make a welcome card for the baby !
- We read books on welcoming new baby which detailed the endless loud crying of the baby and the odour of potty diapers, endless demand for attention, countless hours of sleep and inability to actively play in the beginning and how everything is ok when the baby smiles at you 🙂
- We saw his baby pictures and tried to imagine how the new baby would look
- Make the child involved in the whole process… I used to take my son to most of the doctor visits. He got to hear the heart beat most of the time and that excited him. He came with me to the store to choose toys, clothes and baby equipment too. I know a couple whose older one named the younger one ! How cool is that !
- When the child meets the baby for the first time … We had attended a sibling preparation class at our hospital and they had suggested that when the kids meet for the first time, have a gift ready for the elder one from the baby’s side. We did that but I think my son was old enough (4 years old) to wonder how did the baby and gift both fit in mom’s tummy !hahaha… You could try it if the child is younger though ! These are the other things we did :
- Made sure that the baby was with someone else and not with me when my son entered the room. My hands needed to be free to hug him
- We showed him how tiny the baby’s feet and hands were and how soft they felt
- The baby truly looked like him
- When he asked to hold the baby , we made him sit on the sofa and handed him the baby instead of saying that “No you might drop her !”
- He was allowed to observe the baby for as long as he wanted
- He was given the job of handing out the hand sanitizer to all the guests who came to visit us at the hospital and home , checking if the baby was awake and bringing fresh diaper to me when needed which made him feel very responsible.
- When the baby came home … One of my friends went to India post delivery and there her elder daughter slept with her grandmother while my friend slept with the baby. She confided in me later that she thought that was a BIG MISTAKE. She felt that the baby was too small to understand what was happening so it would have been better if the mom slept with the older child ! Learning from her, we tried not to change anything for the older one whether it was his bed, his school, classes or his daily routine. These are the other things we did :
- We had a round table conference with my husband, me, my son and my mom who had come to help me . We divided the tasks among ourselves. So while my husband got the task to devote himself to my son, my mom got the task of the kitchen , I got of the baby and my son got to be my helper for the diapers and to make sure the wipe warmer was loaded with wipes and ready for the baby.
- I had to reduce the No’s with him. Instead of “Don’t hold baby tightly. Dont shout in her ears” I said ” Hold the baby gently. Talk in your indoor voice”. It was VERY tough because there is something about your post delivery hormones and lack of sleep that your patience goes for a toss. The most difficult situation is when the baby has just fallen asleep after hours of walking and soothing and the elder child will make a loud noise and wake her up ! aaarrrgggghhhh ! But I still tried to be patient and gentle with him as much as possible instead of scolding him.
- Expressing my feelings to my elder one helped me. I said ‘Arya, you know I haven’t slept at night because ‘your sister’ keeps waking up again and again as she is hungry. I am tired and sleepy and now angry because you are still poking her and making her cry. Are you looking for something to do? Do you want to make a puzzle or want me to read you a book ?’
- Whenever I nursed the baby, I called my son to come and talk to me or play a game with me which I could play with one hand. This technique was a life saver as he needed to know that Mom still loves Me !
- We kept my son busy (but not too busy to miss out on mommy time) with school and extra classes and my husband spent all his free time with him…this is the tricky part… one would think that keeping my son busy outside home would keep him happy but it could boomerang where he might start thinking that I am sent away from mom while the baby gets to spend all her time with her !What worked with us is that my husband took him everywhere for classes / playdates as much as possible…
- Give choices and consequences & follow through.. Once Arya started this new thing of opening the room door when I would be massaging the baby. I would tell him repeatedly that the baby will feel cold so the door should not be opened but he wouldn’t listen. His teacher suggested I preempt him and give him a choice before hand. So this is what I said to him ‘I am going to massage the baby now. You have a choice to stay in or out . The door will remain closed once I start the massage. If you open the door in the middle , I am afraid I will have to lock the door’. This worked well. I did have to lock the door in the beginning but he got the message
- Change the Game…. Arya kept leaving out small lego on the carpet which were choking hazards for the baby… In the beginning I kept explaining to him how he will lose such a darling baby sister if she happened to choke on them and he might not get another one ever again. It didn’t work. Then one day I changed the game and said ‘You know Arya, Ami is so lucky to have YOU as such a caring big brother. If anything would to happen to her due to your toys, she would have to go back to god and find another family where she might not find such a wonderful brother like you ‘ It worked !
- Resist Comparing : I find that most siblings are as different as chalk and cheese just like my kids. The best gift you can give them is resist comparing. I feel that if siblings are competitive, its in some way fostered by the parents. They either compare the two or appreciate one much more than the other. Sometimes, I am caught unaware when a relative or a friend compares the two and that is when I can see the way it hurts my child. So I try to be alert !
So one day, six months after baby was born , three of us were watching this movie “Look who’s talking” and there was a scene where the elder brother breaks his baby sisters favorite toy because he gets insecure and feels lonely .. He clearly explains his feelings later… Arya was sitting with me and I asked him if he ever felt that we gave more time to baby … He replies ‘Not at all ‘ ! That was the ultimate proof that these methods work !
Today, as I reflect on the one year of my baby that has gone by, I find that the sweetest part was watching her eyes light up when she spotted her brother and how my son would cry deeply if he hurt her by mistake … How she copies his every move and he does crazier things to see how she tries them too ! There is no feeling of competition between the two…just unconditional love… Hope it stays forever … Amen!