After getting used to life as an only child, it's almost inevitable that little ones will struggle to comes to terms with the arrival of a new baby brother or sister. Dr Sarah Rasmi, a licensed psychologist, assistant professor of practice at the American University of Sharjah and founder of the Thrive Wellbeing Centre in JLT, offers up some tips on how to help ease the transition and prepare for baby number two...
Talk to and involve them
There are several things that parents can do to pre-empt jealousy issues before birth, the first of which would be to talk to your child about the baby that you are expecting. Share your own experiences if you have a younger sibling of your own. Children generally enjoy stories from their parents’ childhood – and I encourage parents to share the struggles as well as the joys. You can also read your child story books about becoming a big brother or sister – there are plenty of options available here in the UAE. I would also involve the older child in the baby preparation; asking them to help pick out toys, clothes, and other things for the new baby can be fun for them. Children often love to share their expertise and opinions!
Be sensitive at the hospital
While many parents tend to follow the above guidelines on the lead-up to the birth, they are often surprised to learn that what we do at the hospital can make a big difference. I recommend asking your guests to greet the big sibling first, rather than rushing straight over to the baby. Guests can make the older child feel special by asking him or her to introduce them to the new baby. It can help to maintain this pattern once you leave the hospital as well. It’s very important for parents to stay connected to their older child while they’re in the hospital – whether that’s with frequent visits and/or phone and video calls.
Keep it up at home
There are some strategies that parents can implement at home too. Older children often enjoy having some responsibility for their younger sibling. Identify the task that would be most comfortable for you and ask your child to contribute; rather than something potentially stressful like shower-time support suggest that your child help in picking out pyjamas or a book for their sibling instead. Try to give your older child some quality one-on-one time each day. Spend the first few minutes of your older child’s day with them – and the first few minutes when they’re back from nursery or school. This will start the interaction on the right foot.
Validate their emotions
It’s also important to acknowledge your child’s mixed emotions. It’s not easy for them to adjust to having a little sibling. Put yourself in their shoes and tell them that you understand where they are coming from. Perspective taking and emotional validation is a great way to diffuse rather than escalate a difficult situation. Once you do that, you can connect your child’s behaviour to your family values and clearly state what you expect from them.