Friday, April 15, 2016

Fostering a good sibling relationship

Imagine your partner says to you, "Honey, I really love you. You are one of the most important people in my life. Please don't be concerned that a younger, very cute person will be spending a lot of time with me. They will possibly be sleeping with me in my bed for a while. There may be some sucking on my breast."


The oldest child was the center of the world for a time. Moving over to make room for a new member of the family isn't always easy.

Some big brothers and sisters are actually eagerly expecting the baby's arrival. Others are too young to really understand what is going on. Regardless, there is a big adjustment to be made. Many parents report that the older siblings are quite sweet to the baby, but act out horribly to the parents. Once in a while, but less often they will also act out towards the baby. Nurse Jen remembers the time that her oldest daughter dropped a medicine ball on her new sister. Others have no malice but don't have a sense of how to be gentle.

Below are some suggestions that may help ease the transition.

Do some gentle preparation by including books about new babies among your reading choices. Please keep reading other favorites that have nothing to do with a new baby as well.

Once the baby has arrived give your older child  plenty of opportunity to talk about what if feels like to have a baby in the house. Validate that it is very normal for the big sister/brothers to sometimes feel mad, sad or aggravated (kids might feel guilty about the way they are feeling.) Many children need to be told that the new brother or sister is here to stay as a part of the family. Sending the baby back in not an option.

Have the new baby come along bearing a gift for the big sibling. I am not sure what the age cut off for getting away with this is. Lauren was a remarkably clever almost 3 year old when Alana came along. Never the less, when we gave her a little present from her baby sister, she accepted it without question. She was delighted and was quite pleased with the very thoughtful baby.

Some big siblings feel very important if you let them be "helpers". Find some safe baby related tasks for them to assist you with.

The most  important tip of all is to make sure that you carve out one on one time with the older child. Often they are craving mom right now. If mommy is breast feeding, make sure that in between feedings she hands the baby off to the other parent or support system for burping, diaper changes, etc. and make a fuss about having "special big boy/girl time." Nurse Jen says that lots of people gave her this advice but she didn't realize that having a sleeping baby in a sling doesn't count. She wanted me to make sure to add that if you are holding the baby, it doesn't count as the "one on one" time.

As your kids get older, the oldest child will always feel a bit entitled to some solo time.

If you can manage it, take just one child with you on routine errands and turn them into adventures. Perhaps you can have only one child at a time allowed to "help" with a meal. Even a walk around the block or some special time at bedtime makes a difference. Try to make sure that each parent gets special time with each kid.

Once the second child comes along you will feel like simple math no longer adds up. One plus one must surely equal five. You will manage to find the balance, but those first few months are challenging to say the least.

With the first child you had the luxury of focusing on schedules and nap time as if they were set in stone. Unless you are remarkably lucky or hire someone, a true schedule doesn't really exist with this second child. Naps? Maybe while you are driving from here to there. (Somehow these second and third children muddle through.)

Do your remember how careful you were with the first one? You avoided crowds and made sure that no one came around if they weren't completely healthy. The new baby will simply be developing that immune system a bit earlier. There is almost no avoiding it, unless you never go out and you quarantine your older child to an unreasonable degree. Second kids get exposed to things quite a bit sooner. (They survive.)

I do like to make the big siblings the deputies of the Hand Washing Patrol. Have Purell around (you can also get the kind that is alcohol free;) Call it magic soap. Tell your deputy that they are in charge of making sure that anyone who is going to touch the baby cleans their hands first. This may help make sure that they don't feel like they are constantly being nagged at.

One more important thing to keep in mind is that all of your kids will reach their milestones on their own timeline. It doesn't pay to compare them to each other or to the other kids in the play group. My baby Alana, for the record, doesn't mind when I use her as an example. She is graduating with a Masters from the University of Michigan in just a few weeks. She is a super star all around, but goodness was she slow starting out.

Talking: Lauren was singing Rogers and Hammerstein musicals at a remarkably young age. She not only knew the lyrics, but she sang them in tune. (I have video proof of this.) Alana barely had ten articulate words before she was two. Lauren would translate for her and act surprised that we didn't know that  "gbabpgpsmp" meant, "I want popcorn please."

Walking: Lauren took her first steps at a year. Alana waited until she was about 16 months and then carried a chair across the room within a day of mastering walking.

Toilet training: Lauren was an early 15 months. Alana had no interest until she was 3. I thought we were going to have to buy depends.

They will all get there.

Siblings will have days when they are best friends and days when they torture each other. My older sister and I were fast friends until 4:00 pm like clockwork every day when she started to pull my hair while saying "Jeep Jeep". My husband was tortured by his older sister until his early teens! My daughters interspersed periods of intense closeness with periods of mild bickering.

If you can avoid it, try not to be the judge and jury. See if you can let them work out mild skirmishes.
Observational statements can be fairly effective. " I see two girls who are having a hard time sharing."
Teach your children the very important tool called 'Walking away power'. If they are having trouble with a sibling, leaving the room is a better choice than whacking them.

Fast forward 20 years:
My family was on a cruise, savoring time together. We were in Cozumel. My husband Sandy was off on a real dive, while the girls and I went Snuba diving. Snuba is a combination of Scuba and snorkeling. With Snuba you breathe through a 30 foot tube that is connected to an oxygen source the floats along the surface. My daughters were swimming along the ocean floor. I was about 10 yards above them watching them animatedly communicate with each other through hand gestures and some signing. I remember proudly thinking...look at my daughters. They are both intelligent, funny, kind and lovely. See how well they can communicate in that secret language that siblings share. I love them so much. I am so glad they have each other and that they have gotten so close as they have gotten older. Our time was up and the guide gestured to all of us that it was time to go up to the surface. They removed the mouth pieces and.......the fight continued:

"You were getting tangled in my hose"
"You were kicking too hard and making too many bubbles"  and so on.
A mom can dream......

This post has been updated from one that I ran several years ago. I think that we could possibly get through a snuba excursion in peace, although Lauren has since gotten her actual Scuba licence. The sisters are incredibly close and relish time together (which is all too rare.) I still marvel over how different they are.
Lauren and her dad will be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro this summer. Alana and I will find ourselves a nice spa or cafe somewhere...


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