Tuesday, October 11th, 2011
Readers of our Parents.com blogs know that Berit Thorkelson and Jill Cordes are both expecting their second child. Their happy news got me to thinking that it would be interesting to get some questions from them about preparing Child #1 for Child #2, and use that as a platform to get expert advice from a colleague, Dr. Laurie Kramer. Dr. Kramer is Associate Dean of Academic Programs and Professor of Applied Family Studies at the University of Illinois. She is a leader in the study of how kids adapt to having a sibling – both before and after birth - and her work was featured in the book “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children” (by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman). So, here are some questions and answers, split into “Preparing for New Sibling” and “Adjusting to Siblinghood.” Note: the focus is on when Child #1 is a toddler (a typical time when Child #2 comes along).
PREPARING FOR NEW SIBLING
No! There’s no need to flood them with the idea. In fact, it’s okay to wait a while. You probably want to introduce the idea when real changes are happening, including when mom is noticeably showing (e.g., middle of the 2nd trimester) and pregnancy is having obvious physical effects on mom (e.g., exhaustion).
What kinds of things should you say?
First, keep in mind that the messages should be short and repeated – this way Child #1 will have something concrete that really sticks in his/her mind. These short messages should focus on the fact that Child #1 will have a baby to love and care for! This helps kids understand that they have something to be excited about.
Is it possible to over-hype the new baby?
Yes! While this is obviously a big event in the house, and many changes are happening, Child #1 needs to feel like the new baby is not going to dominate everything. And Child #1 has lots of other things going on which deserve focus.
So you should keep Child #1′s life pretty normal? What about things like potty training? Should this be postponed or worked around the expected birth date?
Keeping Child #1′s life as normal as possible is the way to go. Their own readiness for things should be your guide. So if Child #1 is ready to start potty training, go for it. It is possible that you might encounter some setbacks because of all the changes that will happen, but these setbacks are ususally very time limited. Better to follow Child #1′s own developmental timetable as much as possible.
Are dolls a good way to let Child #1 practice caring for a baby?
Well, dolls are a good idea – but they are limited. It’s much better if you can have Child #1 spend some time around a real baby. So if you have friends or relatives with a baby try to arrange some time for Child #1 to be around them and play with the baby.
ADJUSTING TO SIBLINGHOOD
Okay, so the day comes, the prepartion is over, and new baby is here. Now what? Is there anything to say to Child #1 to adjust to the reality of having a baby in the house?
There is, without question, a big adjustment to be made - having a sibling is indeed complicated (see some recent Red-Hot Parenting posts on favoritism in the family and labeling of siblings). And naturally Child #1 has a lot to deal with. That said, it’s important to communicate from the start that Child #1 has a new baby too – and a new role as older brother or sister. Make Child #1 feel important by telling them (frequently) that Child #2 will love him/her, and look up to him/her, and will get a thrill from playing with him/her!
But of course Child #2 is going to demand lots of time and attention and take time away from Child #1. What about that?
If at all possible, it’s a great time to have someone else – a friend, grandparent, aunt or uncle, or even dad – start to devote special time to Child #1. This will help a lot and let Child #1 experience a little healthy indulgence too!
Yet there is going to be rivalry, right? How should a parent handle that?
Brothers and sisters are always going to have some rivalry, so indeed Child #1 will do some type of acting out. It’s really important to not overreact as a parent! Try talking (calmly) to Child #1 to see if he/she can articulate the issue(s). And just handle it by focusing on the behavior and directing the behavior in a more positive way. Repeat – don’t overreact! – meaning don’t escalate the emotions. Try to be understanding while promoting appropriate behavior.
Is there anything that a parent should NOT do with Child #1?
In addition to not overreacting (!), it’s important not to dwell on the negatives if Child #1 is having a tough time. Chances are if you acknowledge the challenges, find someone to give Child #1 some special time, and encourage Child #1 to play with Child #2, the negativity will start to dissipate over time.
How about books about siblings? Should I stock up on these to read with Child #1?
Books can be a great tool but you want to make sure they have the right message. Many of them focus way too much on dramatizing the negatives about having a younger sibling – you can probably tell this from the titles, some of which are really awful! Find a book that is realistic but emphasizes the positive experiences using a good story and nice pictures.
So that’s it for now – thank you Berit, Jill, and Laurie! Readers, let me know if you have other questions. And join me in following Berit and Jill’s blogs to keep updated on how Child #1 is doing!
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