5 Ways to Prepare Your Firstborn for A New Sibling
When I was three years old, my parents decided that it would be a great idea to get another sibling for me. Unfortunately for them, I did not share the same sentiment and I was actually contented being their only child and getting all the undivided attention.
So, imagine my horror when one day, I was taken to the hospital and after being told that I would have a baby brother…oh boy, I pulled the longest face and sulked all day long while sitting on my mother’s bed in the ward folding my arms in protest.
The beginning years were difficult but here’s what I learned being the firstborn and how my parents have taught me to adapt, which you might find helpful.
1. Let them share their feelings
Jealousy rears its’ ugly head in the beginning stage, so it is good to sit down and talk about it as often as possible so that your firstborn will be able to process it externally rather than just have an internal dialogue that could be frustrating.
Imagine this scenario. Your firstborn may not want to share with their younger sibling. Instead of saying “Stop fighting over this and let your brother play with that toy!”, which can ignite resentment towards the younger sibling, you can start by saying “It looks like you don’t want to share now. Maybe you could find something else for your brother to play with.”
By saying this, you are empathising at their level and empowering by giving them a choice to decide and inculcating in them a desire to share. Listen to understand before you speak to be understood.
2. What’s in a name?
I know most Asian families are accustomed to having the younger siblings calling the older ones, especially in the Malaysian context where you call the older siblings abang, kak, taikor, or anneh, and younger siblings with the likes of adik, thambi, or tanggachi.
My brother and I call each other by our first names. I know it’s unconventional but it taught me to treat my brother as my equal. From very early on, my parents taught me the value of non-entitlement as an older sibling.
It is an honourable thing to call older siblings by their respective names, but there is also the alternative of not using them. Growing up, I saw my brother as a friend instead of having a superiority complex and an entitlement to “be the first to get this or use that” as most older siblings to.
3. Being inclusive by enlisting their help
Getting your first child to help may be tricky since they may not have warmed up to the baby just yet but I found it helped with the acceptance process. It was as simple as picking out clothes for my brother to holding the milk bottle during feeding.
She constantly affirmed me that what I was doing was not just helping her, but also my brother, and that was really important because I was taught the value of being inclusive and always looking out for others, which I carry with me until today.
However, there is the other extreme of getting their help a little too much. Children can read between the lines and if you go overboard, they may feel that the only way is to constantly help out just to get your attention.
Ask for their help with the intention of bonding and letting them grow closer to your newborn.
4. Have one-on-one time with them
As a child, I always looked forward to the “dates” I had with my father and mother individually, where they would just spend time doing anything together that can range from a Sunday evening jog, to an intentional one-on-one meal time. It’s a great way to not just know your child, but to grow old together with them.
A great idea I found online was to use your child’s “birth date” to have “their night” (example: If your child’s birthday is on the 5th, so every month on the 5th will be his night ).
Here are some suggestions on what you can do:
Sports : It can be a game of bowling, or the Malaysian favourite pastime, badminton. You can even learn a new skill like swimming or cycling together!
Finding a common interest like watching movies or going for a show that would be a great fodder for conversation.
You can ignite an inner Masterchef in them by coming out with a menu and then preparing the meal together!
Bring out the adventurous spirit in them but taking them out for a night of camping, hiking or wildlife sightseeing so they can live out their “Jungle Book” moment.
Instill a love of reading - Me Books would be a great start, by getting books that talk about values such as bravery and politeness — even using the Me Books app feature for a fun time of “draw and record”.
5. Routine, routine and routine!
I cannot stress how important routine is! One of the major things I remembered was to “upgrade” from my parents room and into a new room, where as the baby cot would still be in my parents room for the baby’s arrival. Being a stickler for time made things easier so my parents can plan accordingly without having a meltdown of two kids. It was a seamless transition because it happened months before my baby brother’s arrival.
If you’re reading this after baby #2 is out, most researchers and parents suggest to have very little transition to no transition at all for their existing firstborns for the first three months at least. If needed, cultivate one routine at a time, making sure that the routine is set for at least 4-6 weeks so your children can adjust. It can be tough at the beginning, but it can only get easier after that!
Modelling of a certain kind
“You must be what you want your children to be because they will become who you are.”
At the end of the day, parents will need to show how they model their actions, so their children can then know what to do in reaction. Firstborns are known to take the lead and once you model your life for them, they are able to mirror your values to their other siblings.