Going from an only child to a big brother or sister isn’t always easy. Your older child may have many concerns, some of which are quite valid. Your older child may worry that there isn’t enough love to go around and that his parents may not love him anymore. He may be concerned that he will not get as much attention or be able to do the same things that he used to. He may be angry about this new little person’s arrival, or afraid he will hurt the new baby. All this can lead to an older child suddenly being given a little extra responsibility or needing to adjust to a new level of independence and that can be a tough pill to swallow!
The anticipation of a new playmate can also be an anti-climax when he realises that this little thing can’t play with him and worse still it needs attention. Lots of attention! The new baby is also likely to cry a lot which can be very annoying for siblings and realisation that this new little person is here to stay can also lead to resentment. Parents and carers should always monitor interaction between older siblings and their new brother or sister closely to ensure that they will not accidently (or even in anger) hurt the baby.
One idea to help the older child adjust is to give them some responsibility when it comes to taking care of the baby. Choose an area of the new baby’s child care which they can help with. The older child can get nappies and clothes for you, help with bathing by bringing the shampoo and towel for you, and he can sing and talk to the baby to make sure that she is happy. Depending on the age of the older child, you can assign tasks such as checking whether the baby has woken from her nap, fetch toys she throws from her playpen, wipe her face after meals, or even look after her while you take a bath. These interactions can create a strong bond between siblings and help to give the older child a sense of responsibility and allow him to start trusting in his own abilities. However, don’t force interaction if the child does not want it. Take it easy. The baby is going to be here for a very long time and, over time, the older child will adjust and want to be more involved.
Where older siblings are young, it can lead to a lot of resentment seeing mum and dad paying so much attention to the new baby. The older child may be feeling overwhelmed with it all and not be able to cope with his new role or the additional responsibility that goes with being the “older one.” Try not to push too hard as this could lead to regression in various areas. It’s not uncommon for a toilet trained child, to start having accidents again, or to ask to be fed, clothed and ask for help which they didn’t need before their sibling arrived. They may try to be babied too, thinking that this is how to get more attention from you. Finding a balance can be difficult, but over time you will find it. Emphasise how good they are at doing the things they can do, and tell them that they can eat delicious food while the baby can only drink milk. They can jump, run and climb – the baby can only lie there/crawl. Point out all the good things about being the older sibling.
It’s quite natural to give the baby priority in terms of attention and love without even realising it. Try to make yourself aware of this and adjust your behaviour surrounding it. Don’t be scared to let the baby wait a while so you can show your love and affection to your older child/ren. Older siblings are used to getting attention immediately, and the younger ones are usually more flexible in learning to wait as they have never known different. Subsequent children are often much better at entertaining themselves too and it’s worth taking advantage of this to spend that time with your older child. Unless the baby is crying or has an immediate need, let the older child lead the show. Younger siblings are often dragged around with the older child to activities and other events and usually benefit from it. They learn patience, and they learn other skills faster when they have an older brother or sister to emulate.
Bedtimes can be difficult when there is a baby to care for. If in the past your partner was not involved in the child’s nightly routine, it is a good time to start. However, don’t make any sudden moves! A routine is very important to older children too, so before the baby is born, gently introduce your partner into the bedtime routine so that when the baby arrives, it’s already very natural. If you haven’t had a chance to do this, a soft, gentle approach is still recommended. It can be one more difficult thing to adjust to when baby arrives. Do what works – let your partner entertain the baby until the older child goes to sleep or put the baby to bed first, while your partner reads to the older child.
When this situation is handled with sensitivity and fairness the older child will usually react positively to the arrival of a new baby. Ideally, he will be fascinated by this new addition and compare what the baby does to what he did as a baby too and if handled in this way, he will feel positive and not excluded from the family circle. Most older siblings are fiercely protective of the younger, and delight in the opportunity to teach the new baby all about the world around them.