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Preparing your child for a new sibling

While coping with the demands of two or more children can be overwhelming for parents especially mothers, for first-borns and older children the arrival of a new sibling is stressful and difficult as they now have to share parental attention and affection – Shreya Iyer

The arrival of a second child in a family can be exciting, challenging and a roller-coaster of emotions for both, the big brother/sister and parents. While coping with the demands of two or more children can be overwhelming for parents especially mothers, for first-borns and older children the arrival of a new sibling is stressful and difficult as they now have to share parental attention and affection. Even best-behaved children tend to react regressively with the entrance of a new sibling. Therefore it’s imperative for parents to invest time and effort in preparing children for the expanded family.

Ahmedabad-based freelance writer Shivli Tyagi, who is all set to welcome her second child, believes that the older child needs equal and perhaps more preparation than parents themselves for this change in family dynamics. “Start preparing your first-born from the moment your baby bump begins to show. Many parents break the news to children late in pregnancy and expect them to understand and process the news quickly. I have already begun involving my six-year-old in planning, shopping for the baby’s clothes, toys etc and hope to give both my equal time and attention after delivery,” says Tyagi.

Yet while explaining morning sickness, baby bump and different stages of pregnancy to inquisitive and curious children, it’s important that parents use age-appropriate language.

Neeraj Dabral, commercial manager with a Dubai-based healthcare company, who has two children Aarush (8) and Taanya (3), says that he and wife Shilpa accessed specially curated pregnancy websites to help them “use the right language and phrases” to explain pregnancy and childbirth to children. “Thankfully, there are several superbly written and researched websites which explain the pregnancy cycle to young children in developmentally and age-appropriate language. We used them to explain Shilpa’s pregnancy and prepare Aarush for the arrival of his little sister. Once my daughter was born, we made sure to involve Aarush in several baby care activities and made it a point to appreciate his efforts,” says Dabral.

However, inevitably even the best-prepared children experience envy and resentment when parents divide their love and attention. The most common complaint is that older children tend to act younger, demanding the same attention their new sibling is getting. For example, a toilet-trained elder child might start having accidents or insist on wearing diapers or want to feed from the bottle. In some extreme cases, they may take their frustrations out on the infant by harming her. Parenting experts and counsellors advise parents to actively involve elder children in developmentally appropriate chores for the new-born and actively praise their positive behaviour.

“After the arrival of a new sibling, first-borns often throw tantrums because they want parental attention. Parents can deal with this in many ways. For instance, ignoring tantrums will encourage children to find more positive ways to get parents’ attention. Talking and listening sympathetically to their fears and anxieties helps as also discouraging friends and relatives from excessively showering attention on the new-born. Most important, before the arrival of the new-born encourage the male parent to take up a major chunk of the older child’s daily chores so that she doesn’t feel neglected and abandoned by both parents, in particular, the mother, suddenly,” advises Jolly Kotecha, an Ahmedabad-based soft skills trainer and therapist.

Shivani Sutaria, a clinical psychologist who also practices in Ahmedabad, concurs. “Involving elder children in caring for the new-born and praising them for doing the smallest tasks is critical to enhancing natural sentiments of kinship, love and affection between siblings. Moreover, try to maintain the elder child’s daily routine as far as possible after the baby’s arrival so she doesn’t experience uncertainty and insecurity,” says Sutaria.
Here are useful guidelines to prepare children of different age groups for the advent of a new sibling:

1-3 years

• Toddlers barely understand the meaning and significance of having a baby brother or sister. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to talk to them about their new sibling. Keep the conversation and excitement up.
• Watch picture books of new-borns and familiarise your first-born with words such as sister, brother and baby.
• When you bring home your new-born, do something special for your older child. For instance you could take her to a park or buy her a small gift.
• Most important, spend quality time with your elder child and let her know she is loved and cherished.

3-6 years

• Your child is nervous about sharing parents with a new sibling. Don’t ridicule her anxieties, give her a sympathetic hearing. Reassure her that the new addition won’t change her status as the first-born.
• When buying new clothes for the new-born, make sure you also purchase some for the older children as well.
• Watch picture books/cartoons/movies of a family with several children.
• Be honest and tell them that there will be times when their little sister will need more attention as she can’t do things on her own and needs the help of all in the family.
• Prepare her for your hospital stay. Reassure her you will return home with a new brother/sister for her to play with.
• Once you bring the baby home, ensure you spend quality time with both children.

6-9 years

• Six-nine-year-olds understand and absorb a lot that’s happening around them, but this can be overwhelming. Therefore you need to constantly reassure them of your love and affection.
• Involve children in setting up a crib, buying clothes, choosing toys, etc so that they believe they have an important role in caring for the new arrival.
• Praise older children for every small chore they do while caring for their new sibling.

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