When my daughter was born, my son was already three years old. He had all my attention up to that point. He was the first born from both sides of our families and he was use to being the center of our lives. Nothing we did up to that moment could prepare him for what had arrived.
When I came back from the hospital he was really happy to see me, but the situation had changed. I had two children at home, and although I wanted to pay full attention to both, I just couldn’t. Things started to go awry.
He had always been an excellent boy, but he didn’t understand why I couldn’t play with him all the time, bake with him and do all the things we did together as the great friends we were before. Lily (his new baby sister) wasn’t as easy going as Noah was (let’s put it that way) and I was a very exhausted parent.
I spent my nights reading articles on siblings and I just couldn’t find a solution to our new challenges. One day my mother in law gave me some much needed advice: just make him your helper, for anything and everything. Although I had read this before in several articles, I tried it and he wasn’t very willing.
I decided to give it another try. This time - with a couple of lessons from a parenting advisor-, I took a long, deep breath and said to myself: “I can do it.” These are the steps we followed:
Make your child feel empathetic towards the new baby: I educated my son about babies, why they behave like they do, and we went through some pictures of him from when he was little. He loved watching himself as a baby, he started to understand some of my daughter’s behaviours and had began to formulate different expectations than when we first had gotten home (i.e. the baby will play with me).
Big brother and big helper: He wanted to help me, he wanted to be included and we responded. He very quickly became an invaluable sidekick; helping me with diapers, dressing, teaching her how to crawl, stand and walk. He was the one who taught her how to paint, she copied everything he did (good and bad).
Acknowledge, don’t praise. In my eyes, he was the best big brother that we could ask for. While I tried to let him know that I realised how much effort he was doing, I did so without too much praise. I kept the big compliments for the very important moments as I didn’t want to make it feel like it was something out of the ordinary, saying things such as “I see you helped your sister” instead of “good job helping your sister”.
Don’t put too much responsibility on the older sibling. Phrases such as “make a good example for your sister” puts an extra un-needed stress on the child. We tried to focus on positive things and to give him tasks that were appropriate for his abilities.
Never compare them. They are different and they both have good and not-so-good characteristics. They are a whole person and I want them to keep their identity as such. As much as I was tempted to say to my son “look, your sister ate all her veggies” in an attempt to get him to try them, it would likely not work and he might feel bad about himself with this kind of comparison.
Overall, it was a long journey but with help from our family and the parenting advisor, we accomplished it together. It not only helped my son go through a very rough transition, it also made us work better as a family, while creating a great bond between my children. Sure enough they still fight, especially for toys, but they also have great moments together.
Note: When a problem arises, a parenting advisor can help you approach the problem from a different perspective; it provides you with the necessary problem-solving techniques to deal with difficult situations.