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Preparing Your First Child for a Sibling

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When people think about relationships among siblings, the first word that often springs to mind is "rivalry." To be honest, that conception isn't entirely wrong; siblings can wind up competing for their parents' attention. But it doesn't have to be that way—or only that way.


As a parent, you can set the tone for the way your children relate, not only to you, but to each other as well. With a little effort, you can foster relationships that are loving, supportive, and cooperative instead of competitive.


Part of the secret is to start building a positive relationship among your children before problems arise. In fact, you can even start setting the stage before your second child is born!


How? Here are a few tips to try:


    • Tell Your Child Before Telling the Neighbors: It's best for your child to hear the news about a new baby from you, rather than from someone else. Telling your firstborn yourself shows her that you trust and value her, and also gives you control over how the information is framed. So make sure to share the news with your child before you go public. The best bet is probably to time your conversation for shortly before you tell your friends. That way, your child won't accidentally spill the beans before you're ready.
    • Enjoy Your "Big Boy" or "Big Girl": Even if you weren't expecting a second child, it still would be important to celebrate all the ways your firstborn is growing. Moving from a bottle to solid food, from diapers to underpants... all of these milestones show your child is growing up. As children grow, it's important to show them how proud you are that they're growing into "big boys" or "big girls." And it can prepare them for seeing themselves as "big brothers" or "big sisters," too.
    • Time Your Transitions: Depending on the age difference between your children, you may find that one or more of your firstborn's milestones roughly coincides with the arrival of your new baby. In some cases, you might want to space your children's transitions. For example, you may not want to move your older child into a new bedroom and the baby into the "old" room at the same time, so your firstborn doesn't feel like she's being replaced. However, other transitions may work well together—see if you can move your firstborn into a "big boy" bed as your baby starts to sleep in a crib. If the timing works out, it's a great opportunity to show your pride in both children's growth.
    • Let Them Help: As you already know, babies require a lot of work and attention, and there are many ways in which a big brother or sister can help. Your firstborn can talk or sing to the baby, help with bottles or when you change diapers, and so on. When you find ways to let your firstborn help, you're sending him several important messages: that you trust him, that he can take an active role, that part of being a big brother is taking care of a younger sibling, and that you're all in this together. (As an added bonus, once your firstborn gets the hang of his new responsibilities, it can make your life a little easier, too.)
    • Reassure Them: One common worry among firstborn children is that a new baby will replace them in your heart. From time to time (both before and after the baby arrives), make sure to tell your firstborn that you'll always love her just the same. And be sure to show her, too, by making time for the two of you to have fun together and just snuggle.
    • Set the Tone for Other Adults: Along with reassuring your firstborn, be careful that other well-meaning adults don't accidentally undermine your efforts. Shortly before my own second child was born, a grown-up friend (who wasn't an experienced parent) joked to my 3-year-old son, "Oh, the baby's coming soon. Then you'll come live with me, right?" But while he knew he was joking, my son didn't. Seeing the worry on my son's face, I immediately reassured him that my friend was just being silly—we'd all still be a family together, just like always. Then, I quietly explained to my friend the efforts we were making to prepare my son, to help my friend understand and avoid repeating the error in the future.

All of these techniques can be effective, but obviously, you know your firstborn better than anyone else does. So with some thought (and a bit of trial and error), you'll find the strategies that work best for your family. Whatever methods you use, though, one point remains true: By putting in a little effort now, you can reap a big payoff later on... and your children can, too.


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