Sibling rivalry is so common that sometimes we foresee it. First born children resent the arrival of another baby so they are hostile to their new siblings. Sibling rivalry may manifest in different forms. Learn how to begin sibling relation on the right note and ways to avoid sibling rivalry.
Parenting the second time around
You have just had your second baby and you can't wait to take her home. Life is good. You think that the tough part was over with the delivery and now everything is on cruise control. After all, you've done it all before. You have mastered the mysteries of diapering, breastfeeding and teething. You know what to expect and you are prepared.
Don't forget your first-born
Hold on a minute. While things will definitely be easier the second time around, parents need to remember that every baby is different. While the motions of parenting seem to follow a pattern, your baby certainly won't. In addition, there is another little person whose feelings need to be considered. You cannot expect your first child to be as excited about the new baby as you. More often than not, older children resent the new baby. They do not take kindly to having to share their parents with this stranger who has intruded into their private and exclusive domain. While it may not be possible to prevent feelings of jealousy, parents must certainly do their part to minimize it. They must ensure that their older child does not feel abandoned like an old shoe.
Breaking the news
The first step that parents should take in dealing with sibling rivalry is to prepare their firstborn. Parents are not sure when they should tell their child that the mother is pregnant and a new baby is on the way. Initially, people were of the opinion that children should not be told too early because of the long and boring wait before the new baby actually arrives. On the other hand, children are very sensitive and are quick to pick up that 'something's up.' If they are not told what all the excited whispering and constant adult discussions are about, their imaginations run riot and there is no saying what conclusion they will come to.
Change can be misinterpreted as rejection
Any major changes that you are planning to introduce in your older child's routine should be done either a couple of months before the arrival of the new baby or postponed for a couple of months after that time. If you try to wean or toilet train your older child or send her off to school around the same time that you bring your new baby home, you may cause a misunderstanding. She may view this as a sign of rejection in favour of the new baby.
Encouraging independence in the older child
New babies are time consuming. Thus, it would be a good idea if mothers tried to loosen the apron strings in advance, teaching their older children to be less dependent on them. Encourage them to play more on their own. Give them the opportunity to get accustomed to a babysitter if parents intend to use them. Involve the fathers so that they play a bigger role in parenting activities like bathing the child and bedtime rituals. However, mothers should remember that the child should not be given the impression that the new baby has stolen her mummy.
Don't let your pregnancy get in the way
Pregnant women are often irritable and tired. It is difficult to keep up with an active child in this condition. Instead of snapping at her, explain to your child that making a baby is hard work that makes mummy tired. If your back hurts, invite your child to lie down next to you and read her a story. Remember that picking up your child in no way endangers your pregnancy, unless the doctor has forbidden it. So don't refuse to pick her up, blaming the pregnancy. You will just be sowing the seeds of resentment against the new baby in her mind.
Make your child feel involved in the pregnancy
Take your child into confidence and make her feel a part of your pregnancy. Explain to her that as the baby grows, your stomach will become bigger and bigger till the baby is ready to come out. Once the baby begins to kick, let your child feel the movement of the baby. Refer to the baby as 'our baby' to make your child feel included. Let her help you pick the baby's toys and furniture. Refresh her memory about babies by making her look at her own baby photos and praising how grown up she is now.
Do not overcompensate for your pregnancy
In attempting to prepare your child for the new baby, do not go overboard. Do not shower her with gifts or slack off on disciplining her. The message you are sending out is that you are already guilty about neglecting her in the future. She will feel that it is compensation for the terrible times that lie ahead. She will realize that she has the upper hand and play on her parents' guilt to get her own way. Do not let your pregnancy dominate the lives of the members of your household.
When the new baby comes home
It is important that the sibling relation begin on the right note. The way parents handle the homecoming of the new baby is important in this respect. It may be a good idea for the older child to be taken to the hospital by a family member to 'help' bring the baby home. If that is not possible, the mother should try to greet her older child privately before father and the baby enter the house. It may be helpful to curb the number of visitors in the first few days after the mother and the baby return from the hospital. This will give the mother some time to recuperate. In addition, the older child will not feel as if all the attention is focused on the new baby. This may be difficult to enforce, as the arrival of a new baby is the cause of much jubilation. In that case, instruct the visitors that they should try not to gush and coo at the baby to the exclusion of the older child. New babies sleep for most of the day so mothers should take advantage of this free time to spend some special time with their older child. If your child expresses a desire to stay home from school for a couple of days, let her. If you insist that she go to school, she will feel like you are pushing her out the door now that you have a new baby.
Manifestations of sibling rivalry
Sibling rivalry is manifested in various, sometimes subtle, ways. Some children are openly hostile to their new siblings, while others are more diffident about expressing their negative feelings. Some older siblings give the baby a good pinch or try to hurt the newborn while your back is turned. Another child may seem to be responding favourably to the new entrant in the family until she politely queries when the baby is being taken back to the hospital. Some older siblings show no animosity to the newborn at all preferring instead to turn their anger on their mothers. Some children go to another extreme attempting to suppress their jealousy. They develop a kind of obsession with the newborn. The new baby becomes a point of reference for everything that they see or do. This is neither natural, nor healthy.
It is much healthier if your child's hostility is out in the open and she expresses the way she feels. However, don't dwell on her hostility. Acknowledge it and then move on. In the case of children who are suppressing their resentment of the newborn, it may help to draw them out by taking them into confidence and saying that you too get quite annoyed when you have to get up in the middle of the night to feed the baby.
Your older child may feel that the baby has a cushy life. The newborn is petted and pampered, gets to spend the most time with mummy, and has done nothing to deserve this luxury. She decides to try out some baby talk, drink milk from a bottle and occasionally even wets her bed to draw your attention. Be patient with her and do not ridicule or chastise her for her 'babyish' behaviour. At the same time, remind her subtly that she is grown up. Praise her when she exhibits independent behaviour and tell her that she can be a great help to you because she is older.
Dealing with physical aggression
If you have caught the older sibling in the act of causing bodily harm to the baby in any way, remember that scolding her will only fuel her resentment. Do not overreact. Calmly explain to your child that it is important to be gentle with the baby. To be on the safe side, do not leave them alone together till you are sure that your child is old enough to understand the consequences of her actions.
It's a juggling act
First time mothers find that their whole lives are different with the birth of their babies. They don't seem to have the time for themselves any more. Just when a woman has finally adjusted to being a mother from a wife, along comes her second child and she is in the middle of a whirlwind again. Life is a maddening whirl trying to balance the needs of a husband, a child and a newborn baby. It is a given that it is not possible to make everyone happy all of the time. Women can just give it their best shot.