Congratulations you’re expecting baby #2! Either you have just found out about a new little baby, you are halfway done with your pregnancy, or just had the baby. No matter where you currently are with baby #2 you want to set yourself, your family. and you’re firstborn up for success. You may have dreamt about your firstborn’s excitement about their new sibling and how their friendship will evolve over the years. With all this excitement you maybe also have so many questions such as how to help your firstborn adjust to a new sibling?
Are they going to get along?
How am I going to meet everyone’s needs?
What is life with 2 going to be like?
How can I help them bond during the pregnancy?
Am I planning to wean my oldest or tandem nurse?
How are they going to react once the baby is born?
Will my firstborn get over the “I only want mommy” phase before the baby arrives?
How is my child going to be when I leave to go have this new baby?
No matter how young or old your firstborn is, they’ll have some adjusting to do when their new brother or sister comes into their world. I want to say it straightforward now so you are surprised later (and hopefully you already know this) but when there is more than 1 child there is going to be sibling rivalry.
Sibling fighting is common in family households even in peaceful parenting homes and it can be challenging to manage when parents aren’t armed with the right tools! As a parenting coaching/educator I constantly see the challenges parents face when it comes to dealing with sibling rivalry. Being able to help parents gain the right tools and teach them how to use the tools correctly, helps parents eliminate sibling rivalry in their home.
Nothing is more rewarding or joyful to a parent than to see their children laughing and playing together, and with these tips and more parenting tools, you can put an end to sibling squabbles (at least mostly for good anyways!) and help your firstborn adjust to a new sibling. We all know what were everyone is happy in the home that day goes by so much smoother!
What Is Sibling Rivalry & Why Does It Happen?
To better understand sibling rivalry we need to look at it from your child’s perspective. Your oldest child all the way up until baby #2 is born they have had all your time and attention. When they asked you for a glass of water you got it right then. They didn’t have to share their toys or their time with anyone.
Then their brother or sister came alone and WAM a complete stranger comes into their lives and they are supposed to love them, share mom & dad, toys, attention, love, time and now when they ask for you to play they have to wait until you finish feeding the baby or when they want to play catch with dad they need to wait until dad has finished changing the baby’s diaper.
As each kid gets older they start to want the same toys, the baby is not such a baby anymore and they start to become more independent and don’t want to be bossed around by their older sibling.
One of the best examples I have read that really helps to put yourself in your oldest shoes is from the book Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber. I want you to really imagine that it happened to you! That way can really see how it feels being in your oldest shoes. Here is the example:
Your spouse puts an arm around you and says, “Honey, I love you so much, and you’re so wonderful that I’ve decided to have another wife just like you.”
When the new wife arrives you see that she’s very young and kind of cute. When the three of you are out together, people say hello to you politely, but exclaim ecstatically over the newcomer. “Isn’t she adorable! Hello sweetheart… You are precious!” Then they turn to you and ask, “How do you like the new wife?”
The new wife needs clothing. Your husband goes into your closet, takes some of your sweaters and pants, and gives them to her. When you protest, he points out that since you’ve put on a little weight, your clothes are too tight on you and they’ll fit her perfectly.
The new wife is maturing rapidly. Every day she seems smarter and more competent. One afternoon as you’re struggling to figure out the directions on the new computer your husband bought you, she bursts into the room and says, “Oooh, can I use it? I know how.”
When you tell her can’t use it, she runs crying to your husband. Moments later she returns with him. Her face is tear-stained and he has his arm around her. He says to you, “What would be the harm in letting her have a turn? Why can’t you share?”
One day you find our husband and the new wife lying on the bed together. He’s tickling her and she’s giggling. Suddenly the phone rings and he answers it. Afterward, he tells you that something important has come up and he must leave immediately. He asks you to stay home with the new wife, and make sure she is already.
How did you feel while reading that example? What thoughts ran through your head? Do you now have a better understanding of what your firstborn is feeling and dealing with?
Young children aren’t able to express or say how they feel with words so they express it by misbehaving. They refuse to share, pushing, hitting, yelling, and biting are what comes from feelings that are acted upon (Misbehavior) because they simply don’t know how to communicate big feelings with words.
How Can I Avoid Sibling Rivalry From Happening?
Now you can’t stop or avoid sibling rivalry completely, but you can reduce how often there are sibling squabbles. Even adults get into arguments and disagreements from time to time. Reducing the frequency of sibling arguments leads to more peace and harmony in your home!
Here are 4 ways to help your firstborn adjust to a new sibling that you can do today to help reduce sibling squabbles and start forming a positive relationship.
1. Loving Each Child As Their Own Unique Individual
I never fully understood the phrase” Every child is different” until we had baby #2. Everything was different the second our little man was born. Sure there were differences in each pregnancy but it didn’t fully hit me until our second was born. Not only was he completely different from his older sister, but I had to learn how to have our own unique relationship with him just like I had to do with our oldest.
Every interaction you have with your new baby is laying down the foundation of your relationship and connection. As time goes on you will come to find that you have a powerful and loving relationship with baby #2 like you had with the firstborn-but different, because each child is completely different.
So what does this mean for sibling rivalry?
No matter the questions, fears, and concerns you have about welcoming a new baby into your home and hearts, you can and will totally love your second child just as much as your firstborn.
Each child needs to feel loved, values, and seen, but because each child is different and unique that means that each child needs different things from you to feel loved.
“By speaking your child’s own love language, you can fill his “emotional tank” with love. When your child feels loved, he is much easier to discipline and train than when his “emotional tank” is running near empty.”
“When parents can solve their child’s unmet needs, their behaviors will take care of themselves.“- Lisa Smith
Love each child in the way they truly feel loved, so that they know that their needs will always be met. When this happens their siblings will become blessings instead of burdens or threats to their love. Once each child knows that no matter what their siblings get, that there is always an abundance of love for them.
2. Setting Your Child Up For Success
The relationship between your children doesn’t start once the new baby has arrived. Their relationship starts the second you tell your firstborn that they are going to be a big brother or sister.
What is the best way to tell them?
How can you help them bond before their sibling is born?
If you have already told your child, that’s okay! You can still follow these steps to help set them up for success. Here are some ideas that you can do to help start their bonding before the new baby is born.
1. Read books that have siblings in them (The Berenstain Bears are my favorite for this)
2. If your firstborn is older. Ask them questions such as…
Do any of your friends have little siblings?
What would you like to do with your sibling?
Would you like a brother or a sister?
3. Role-playing scenarios! Role-playing has massive benefits for children. It helps them to start adjusting to the idea of having a sibling before their sibling arrives. Even if baby #2 has already arrived you can still role-play, because role-playing also helps children to work through their emotions.
You can role play with lego people, dolls, stuffed animals, or with each other acting out different people of the family.
4. Have them help you set things up for the new sibling
When a firstborn gets to help it makes them more excited to welcome their new sibling. Talk about baby names together, take them to doctor’s appointments, have them pick which toys they would like to give to the baby, let them help you decorate the baby’s room, have them read books to their unborn sibling, etc.
Keep in mind to not make everything about the baby. Your child doesn’t really understand what it’s like to have a sibling until they arrive. They may seem super excited at first until the baby arrives then there may be some disinterest. That is normal and while you can be super excited and talk about this new baby, and how excited you are to see your firstborn become a big brother or sister. Don’t go overboard and act like this is the most important thing in the entire world because to them it’s not.
3. How To Support Your Child Emotionally As They Come A Big Sibling
That love-hate relationship between siblings is real. Yes, they will be playing happily together and then 3 minutes later they will be fighting. As your child goes from being an only child who got everyone’s attention, time, and love. To share that with someone they don’t really know yet is a very big transition!
Supporting your child emotionally is going to help make the transition smoother and will help your firstborn adjust to a new sibling. The first thing to understand is that your pregnancy is stressful to your child. The reason is that you aren’t as energetic, patient, or capable as you used to be. There is less room on your lap, you can’t go down the slides (at least very well anymore), you can’t chase them around the house very fast and they are worried about what life will look like for them with a baby in the house.
In most if not all families there is some sort of added stress. That may be moving into a different house, potty training, going to a new school, transitioning from a crib to a toddler bed. All of this can be super stressful to your child so expect some acting out or regression.
If there are any big changes that need to be made before baby #2 arrives. Do it well in advance! That is because your child needs time to adjust without associating change with the new baby.
During pregnancy and even once the new little one arrives don’t overfocus on the baby. When there is so much focus on the baby the firstborn will become resentful and may have resentful feelings towards their new sibling. So when questions about the new baby are asked towards your firstborn and they aren’t sure what to say. It’s okay to change the subject!
One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to make sure your child knows that they still are important and have a place in the family. That is because up until now they have been the baby and when a new baby arrives they can feel displaced so to help with these feelings help your child to feel seen, heard, important, and valued.
4. When Your Child Is Having A Hard Time Adjusting
There are going to be days where your child seems to be having a hard time and is having very mixed emotions about their new sibling. That is okay! This is a very big and sometimes stressful transition for everyone.
There are going to be things that you can’t do the second your child requests it and they may have to express their big emotions about that because before the baby you could do what they requested within seconds. Here are 2 scenarios to demonstrate how to help your child when they are having a hard time adjusting.
Scenario #1: You are nursing the baby and your child want’s you to play legos with them
Instead of ” I can’t play right now because I am feeding the baby.”
Try: “I can see you are feeling frustrated because you would like me to play legos with you right now. It may seem like I am with the baby a lot huh? I understand…Would you like to pick out your favorite book and come snuggle up to me? There is always enough room for you and I can read it while I’m feeling the baby? Then after the baby is done eating why don’t we play some legos together while she sleeps.”
Scenario #2: The baby is crying and you are holding them and bouncing to help soothe them and your firstborn child comes and asks to be held to and they start crying and pulling at your shirt.
Instead of: “Honey, I am can’t hold you right now. The baby is crying and I am trying to calm her down. Once she calms down then I’ll hold you okay?”
Try: “Everything feels hard right now, doesn’t it? It feels hard to me too right now. Here let’s sit on the floor together and I can hold you both.”
All the adjusts that come for everyone when you welcome a new baby are challenging. There will be good days and bad days because it takes time to help you’re firstborn adjust to a new sibling. Keep in mind to be patient as you and your children learn these new strategies.
No matter the age between your children they are going to start learning conflict resolution which is a very advanced skill and takes time to learn (there are even some adults who still struggle with conflict resolution!). When you use these strategies in place you can make the transition for everyone much smoother.
Don’t be surprised if you have gone a few days or even weeks without much sibling rivalry challenges and then they start back up again. Kids are constantly seeking their parent’s attention and look for any opportunity to insert their power. You may take two steps back and one step forward from time to time. That is often a good reminder that there are some things that need attention.
If you would like more tips or 1 on 1 help. Schedule a free compliantly call with me personally and we can chat about any sibling challenges that you are facing and how to tackle them so that you can have harmony in your home once more!
Best of wishes on your parenting journey!