I hated my younger sister. By the number of times I poked her eyes, asked for a trade-in, and failed her when we played pretend school, I’m pretty sure it was no secret: I didn’t care for her one bit. My sister and I are three years apart and now get along just fine. However, I know those first few years were extremely difficult on my parents and me.
Given my sibling history, I worried about growing my own family. I had my son a few weeks after my daughter’s second birthday, and although my kids are different genders and closer in age than my sister and me, I prepared for the worst.
However, unlike my parents who were both middle children, I had the advantage of being a firstborn and regularly tried to see situations from my daughter’s perspective.
Whether or not that actually helped, I don’t think it hurt. Friends and family often comment on how well my kids get along and have even asked for suggestions when dealing with their firstborns, so I’m here today with ten tips to help your firstborn enjoy your newborn, especially in those first few months together…
Don’t compare your children to yourselves.
As parents, one of the first things we do when the baby pops out is make comparisons. Oh, she has your smile. He has your dimples. She has my toes. That’s all fine and well, and while this does confirm bloodline and perhaps even ease paternity doubt, it can negatively impact the child who doesn’t possess those features.
“Mommy says the baby looks just like her. I don’t look like Mommy. She must like the baby better.”
Compare all you want when your children are out of earshot, but you would be surprised what little ones pick up on when you pull out your baby photos and make comparisons in front of them.
Don’t compare your children to each other.
The same goes for comparing your children to each other. Before the baby was born, your firstborn was the standard. Now, someone else is a better eater, a better sleeper, or achieves milestones sooner. Even if the second born is more difficult than the first, making such comparisons sets the stage for future competition.
Don’t increase punishment.
Now is not the time to implement new discipline strategies. If time-outs didn’t exist before the baby was born, your firstborn may make negative associations between the punishment and the new addition. You also may be tempted to punish more often because, let’s face it, your firstborn may act against the baby or even regress in potty training or sleep training. Just give it time and avoid punishment when possible; otherwise, you might find yourself caught in a vicious cycle in which you are upset with your child, and he/she is upset with you.
Do give your firstborn all your attention.
Your firstborn is used to being in the spotlight, so in the beginning, it is difficult to share the stage. My daughter most often acted out when relatives came to see the baby. While everyone was cooing over him, she attempted to get their attention with singing, dancing, and musical instrument playing. When that didn’t work, she chunked toys at the baby, and finally, all eyes were on her again. I soon learned to turn my attention to her variety shows in those moments. While everyone else focused on the baby, I focused on her. As my son got older, those attention-seeking moments became less and less. And now, at three and five years old, they perform duets together when family comes over!
Do increase hugs, kisses, and cuddles.
If your firstborn acts out against the new baby, chances are he/she is seeking your attention – which you probably readily give when the baby’s swing is shoved into the wall. Be sure to make time to cuddle alone with your firstborn, even if it’s while he/she watches cartoons and you sleep on the couch. When my son took a morning and an afternoon nap, I reserved the morning nap as time to spend exclusively with my daughter doing whatever she wanted to do. In the afternoon, we all took an hour to rest by ourselves.
Do offer bribes.
Whether it is to nurse, change a diaper, or rock him/her to sleep, there are times when you just need hold the baby. I kept our iPad sacred for those moments only. I also learned a few minutes of television each day wouldn’t in fact destroy my firstborn. My daughter didn’t watch television and play with the iPad all day, but when I needed to hold my son or be alone with him, those devices were lifesavers. Whether it’s a device, toy, or show, save it for critical moments.
Do remind your firstborn how awesome he/she is at being a big brother or sister.
I regularly told my daughter how lucky my son was to have her as a big sister with words like, “You give the best hugs. Buddy is so lucky to have you as a big sister.” I often heard her repeat those phrases to herself, “Buddy is lucky to have me.” Call it brainwashing if you want, but now as a five-year-old, my daughter regularly tells me how lucky we are to have Buddy.
Don’t give responsibility based on age.
I loved my Maw Maw more than words can express. But I will say, one thing she did that drove me absolutely crazy was ask me to set a good example for my younger sister and cousin because I was the oldest. I couldn’t help being the oldest. I didn’t ask for that responsibility. Maybe I just wanted to act like a child too instead of feeling the pressure to be a role model for others.
Do give responsibility based on ability.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t give your firstborn responsibility. Do give it, but remind him/her of the qualifications for the job: “Since you are such a good helper, can you help me by cleaning up the playroom?” I obviously didn’t give my son the job because he was an infant, but instead of telling my daughter to do it because she was older and able, I spun the task to reflect her good qualities. She wasn’t clean by nature, but she was a good helper.
Do extend grace to firstborns.
Just like you were at one time new to parenting, firstborns are new to being siblings. Don’t hold it against them if it takes a while to get the hang of it. Their world has just been turned upside down, so give them grace when adjusting to it.
These are just a few ideas to help your firstborn adjust to changing family dynamics. Now when it comes to second-born kids, I have no idea. Ask my sister!