As a mother I have learned a bit about what is important and what is not, though my mother will tell you I’ve not quite yet learned as much as she has. Growing up, my sister and I — though very close now — were arch-enemies, playing off each other’s weaknesses and constantly looking for an opportunity to outshine the other.
So naturally, after having my first, I looked for ways to make the transition from only-child family, to two-child family, and now three-child family as seamless as possible, looking for ways to foster positive sibling relationships.
While petty sibling rivalries are likely, what I’ve learned for myself and hope to impart to my children is that there is enough love to go around.
Most sibling rivalries begin in jealousy or fear, in thinking that somehow, simply because the other child or children exist that mom and dad suddenly have a finite amount of love and, if it is being shown to one child, clearly there is not enough left for the other.
While it may sound preposterous to us as adults, to children it is a very natural and developmentally appropriate way of thinking, according to the Child Development Institute.
But just because it’s normal doesn’t mean it’s easy for us as parents to navigate.
When I was pregnant with my second child, I worried endlessly about how to ensure my children were the best of friends, or at the very least that they wouldn’t hate each other. I put a lot of energy into preparing my then-2-year-old for the birth of her baby brother.
Here are some ideas I came up with along the way.
I began by giving her responsibilities concerning the baby. She could help set up the nursery and fold the baby clothes, for starters. This ensured that activities concerning the baby were not separate from her, that she was just as involved in the process as I was.
And now, at 9 years old, she does the same thing for her new little sister. All our baby clothes and diapers are currently organized thanks to her. She takes a lot of pride in welcoming her new sibling into the world.
Another way I’ve been able to help transition my children into their new roles as older siblings is by purchasing books specifically geared toward them. My daughter received a book called “Big Sister” (and there is no shortage of these types of books) and my son got “The New Baby” book, which is part of the Little Critter series.
My daughter’s eyes lit up when her brother received his book, remembering how important hers was in becoming an older sister. Each book has a handwritten note in the front cover, encouraging them and assuring them of how great they will be at being older siblings.
Express ideas together
Both my son and my daughter are leaders, as most kids can be, and delight in teaching others new skills. I’ve taken time with each of them to think through and even write out what they’d like to teach their baby sister. This gives them a sense of ownership as well as pride in knowing they will be able to positively influence their sister, teaching her things from how to talk to how to be a good friend.
Spend quality time with each child
In order to circle back around to ensuring there is enough love to go around, we still make one-on-one plans with each child. My youngest loves Legos while the oldest loves to read. I’ve made it a point to still spend quality time doing their favorite activities with each child and purposely spend that time with no mention of the baby, focusing only on them and their interests. This confirms that I am and still will be available to them, even with their little sister upstairs.
If either of my children seem worried or anxious about having to share my time or about what being an older sibling may mean for our family dynamic, we talk about it.
Dr. Robert W. Sears, a well-known parenting expert, says, “Encourage your child to express her negative as well as her positive feelings. Give her an empathetic opener such as, ‘Sometimes I imagine you like your baby brother and sometimes you don’t.’”
Simply giving your children the opportunity to express themselves validates their feelings.
Now everyone can welcome the baby with excitement.