Saturday, January 19, 2013

Preventing Sibling Rivalry


Preventing Sibling Rivalry

One thing that comes up a lot in my birth classes is concern over adding the second baby.  Parents for the second time always wonder how things will go when they add another baby to the mix.  Concern about adding a sibbliing is often greatest when the second child is born.  The first has also been the "only" for their entire existence and has had total access to mom and dad and is always loved and sometimes doted on.

What happens when you add another needy and helpless baby to the family dynamic?  How do you prevent sibling rivalry when you add a baby?

I will admit that as with all parenting things, I am no expert on this.  My kids DO fight.  They do get mad at each other.  They DON'T always enjoy every moment together.

But I will say (thus far, they are all very young and I am sure things change as time goes on) there isn't rivalry or jealously among them.  So how do I have four kids and no sibling rivalry?

I was lucky enough to get some great advice from a very experienced mother of six early on.  She said something simple-  "Tell the older child (or children) that the coming baby is THEIRS."

This baby isn't just mom's or just dad's.  It isn't going to replace anybody or take over the other child's special place.  The coming baby instead is a gift to the child. Baby will be THEIR baby and they will be the mama or dada.

This simple shift in language when referring to the coming child makes a huge difference.  Suddenly the baby isn't a threat- it is a gift, a responsibility, something they are in charge of and will help with.

By referring to the baby as "their baby" and calling the older child the "mama" there is an ownership and pride associated with the coming baby, rather than a rivalry.  They are excited about their baby, excited to help care for it, excited that they are so big that they can be such an important person and play an irreplaceable role in the family.

(Note- my kids are all pretty close in age- about two years apart and my oldest was about 6 when the youngest was born.  Obviously- this would sound kind of stupid if your older child was a teenager.  I can't help you there.  Hopefully somebody will leave an awesome comment about preventing sibling rivalry when there is a bigger age gap.)

Sometimes I think parents are so concerned about protecting the new baby that they deny the older children opportunities to be loving and nurturing.  The truth is that every child, male or female, needs and deserves opportunities to nurture others.  Having a sibling is a perfrect time to learn this.

If they want to help with the baby- LET THEM.

If they want to hold the baby- LET THEM.  (You may need to sit very close by to ensure safety- but don't treat the older child like they are incapable of helping with the baby.  But a warning- keep a hand very close and stay aware.  I have found that when a two year old is "done" holding the baby- they are done right NOW.")

If they copy nurturing things they see you do (like nursing, holding, walking, shushing or loving a baby doll) then PRAISE THEM.  "You are such a good mama/dada!"  Children should be praised for learning to love.

Another thing that I think helps new parents to a second child adjust is recognizing the difference between true rivalry or jealously and normal adjusting behaviour when a big change (like an added sibling) takes place in a home.  

When I add a new baby to my house it is always an adjustment.  There is a learning curve for EVERYBODY.  It is not unusual for children to show some regression.  Sometimes a potty trained child will start having accidents again.  Sometimes there will be acting out behaviour or extra emotional outbursts.  Sometimes an older child will once again act like a "baby" or request extra cuddles and love.

Change is upsetting and those kinds of minor behaviour problems are normal and just part of the process.  Roll with it.  It ends.  Those little things don't mean my kids don't love the baby - they just indicate that they are trying to find a way to deal with a big change in their life.

I remember having my second baby.  I was petrified the entire pregnancy about how it would go and how my older baby would handle it.  I was worried again with each and every pregnancy. 

But you know what.  Things were fine.  The kids love each other.  They always love the new baby and are so proud of them- because the baby is THEIR baby.  They know that they are an important part of that baby's life

As I talked to a new mom of a second baby today, I was reminded once again about how wonderful it can be to add the second child.  She said she simply enjoyed it so much more.  She had spent years worried about how stressful it would be to have a second baby- and now, she is just so happy.

Change is scary and adjustment is normal.  But adding a new baby doesn't have to be awful for the older children.  Sibling rivalry isn't a requirement in any home.  Encourage nurturing and responsibility and the transition will be so much smoother.

(And yes, I realize that now that I have written this post my children will explode in horrendous rivalry never witnessed on such a large scale.  That is the chance I take when I share advice.  I am sure I will deserve whatever I get.)

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