I have been blessed with the birth of my third grandchild, a precious girl named Avigayil Victoria!! Big sister Molly, age 2 1/2 is definitely feeling that something different is going on in her family. It is the first time I am able to observe the experience of bringing home a new baby from the distance of being a grandparent. As the mother of 6 children I understand the shock children experience when a new baby comes home. In my experience it mostly affects the youngest, child, but there can also be reactions from older children. I encourage parents to be prepared for the inevitable emotional upheaval of bringing a baby into your family.
Molly is definitely excited, curious, and loving towards her 2 week old sister. She is also worried there is not enough love to go around. She told her parents "The baby was happier in your tummy. She didn't cry when she was there.". Put her back in the tummy perhaps?? She also told her father not to hold the baby anymore. As a grandmother I chuckle at how adorable Molly is and how wonderful she is able to express her feelings. However my son and daughter in law are in the middle of handling a delicate situation. They want their two girls to be loving sisters. I do believe the relationship begins right now. It is a tremendous responsibility. What do they say and do when Molly expresses her insecurity in this new family dynamic? When Molly asked her father not to hold the baby, he said "Avigayil will need to be held sometimes. Also Molly loves to be held." He then gathered Molly in his arms and said "You also like me to eat you up." Then he gobbled her up to her laughter and happiness. The message is clear...there are times when you will see me holding and loving the baby...there are times when I will be holding and loving you. This is Molly's new reality.
Acknowledging the older child's feelings is the first step in forming a positive bond between siblings. So many times we hear parents say "The baby is little so of course I pick her up" or "You are a big girl now so you don't need to be held so much." NO! NO! NO! These responses are the opposite of reassurance. This tells the older child he is right, he has been displaced. Parents need to calm down and not be alarmed by a child's negative feelings towards the baby. When we tell a child "you don't mean what you are saying, of course you love the baby" we are teaching him to distrust his own feelings.
Twenty eight years ago Molly's father became a big brother. He was sitting next to me as I was holding his baby brother. I recall it as being a cozy moment, he put his finger next to the baby's hand and the baby grabbed onto his finger. I was thinking "he really loves the baby." Then he said, very gently "It's time to put the baby in the trash." BAM!! A perfect example of the ambivalent feelings an older child feels towards the baby! I didn't panic because I had already read Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlich. I said "Sometimes you want the baby here and sometime you don't." He said "Yes." Deep sigh. Then he said "Look how little his fingers are."
Remember an older child can get physical with the baby. I have seen children bop a baby's head with a plastic hammer, attempt to drag and almost drop a baby out of a carriage, poke a baby's eye, etc.etc. etc. A child's fear of displacement can get dangerous. Parents must be vigilant to keep the baby safe. But again do not be afraid of encouraging the child to express his displeasure in a different way. "You are not allowed to hurt the baby. Show me with your doll how you would like to use the hammer." I know it's not pleasant to witness but better the doll!!
So parents remember it's not going to be an instant closeness between older children and the new baby. In order to strengthen the relationship between sibling, let those negative feelings be expressed. Relax. There is enough love, time, and attention to go around. I know, at times,it doesn't feel that way, but it's all about the quality of the relationship you have with your older children. You can meet the baby's needs and concentrate on positive interactions with your older child. Plenty of affirmations confirming the older child's special place in your heart, warm eye contact, and lots of affection will help your family in this exciting new chapter! Good luck! I would love to hear more comments from your exceptional big siblings!!