Expecting a new addition to the family has a different impact on each of the other members of the family. Big sisters have a very important role in each family. As parents, you are in the preparation mode, yet thankfully not as nervous as with your first baby. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and relatives are also thrilled. Friends are organizing the baby shower or giving moral support.
But more often than not, the biggest impact is on the smallest member: the little boys or little girls who are about to become big brothers or big sisters. And the younger they are, the more confusing this transition can become. Research has shown that, even when taken into consideration, older siblings can begin to feel left out, jealous and even neglected when a new baby is born. And that’s natural!
It’s also natural that parents can’t cover all the bases and jealousy-proof the sibling relationship. A new baby requires 24-hour care and you’ll be left sleep-deprived and tired, especially in the first few months. So, don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t do it perfectly, no one can.
Though it is a challenging time for everyone, there are ways to soften the transition. This will not only help reduce conflicts and grudges, but it will also help create a sense of joy, love and togetherness. Plus, with smoother sailing, you’ll be able to get more rest and relaxation.
In this article, we’ll be focusing on little girls who are about to become big sisters, or who have just become big sisters. And we’ll also be focusing on the younger ages, like toddlers, although the principles apply for boys as well as older kids.
So, on that note, here are a few things you can do to help your little sweetheart feel just as excited as you feel.
#1 Foster A Relationship Between The Baby and the Big Sister Before the Birth
One of the best ways to help your daughter not only come to terms with the changes happening, but to also have a sensory and emotional understanding, is to begin to create a relationship between her and the baby before the birth. Spend time letting her feel the baby belly, telling her how it feels from your side also. Let her speak to the baby, and not just about how happy she is to meet her new sibling, but also about any worries as well.
This may sound like a crazy idea, but it’s actually got some wonderful benefits down the line. Babies in the womb actually begin to develop their hearing capacities early on, and from 23 weeks onwards, they can hear voices from the outside world. Listening to specific voices consistently, such as your own, or your daughters, actually fosters the bonding before the birth, which then helps with the relationship post-birth.
It will also give you some interesting insights on how your daughter thinks and feels about this whole thing. And make sure to record some of these conversations!
The rest of the points are applicable before and after the birth as well.
#2 Help Her Understand
Your daughter is super smart, no matter her age. Children are intuitive, even if they cannot express it, and your daughter can sense the changes happening even if she doesn’t understand their exact nature. Instead of dumbing-down your responses about what’s going on, attune with her emotions and insecurities about these changes early on.
Let her ask questions, and ask her if she has any questions. Ask her how she feels, what she thinks, what she tells other people about the new baby. And practice empathetic listening. Repeat back to her what she said. That helps her become even more aware of her thoughts and feelings, and makes her feel understood.
#3 Reassure Her… A Lot
Without being able to voice this, big sisters feel like their role as the baby or the only child has been taken over by a stranger. They may not be aware of exactly why they feel the way they feel, but there is a fear of being replaced and a sense that the new baby is taking away all the love, attention, tolerance and delight that was once their sole property.
This is not easy for anyone to experience. Including adults! Have you ever felt a little sad or afraid when someone new at work came in and started getting a lot of attention? You might have felt like you’re being replaced even if you’re actually not.
The difference between you and a toddler is that you can use your own mind to reason with yourself. You can talk yourself out of difficult emotions, and focus on your work and keep your self-esteem more or less intact. But a toddler hasn’t yet developed this capacity, and she relies on the guidance of others, especially you, to help her understand that the role change is not a bad one.
So, make sure she sees how much you value her, and also let her know that although it might seem like the baby is taking a lot of attention, but it’s not because the baby is more important, but it’s because the baby is a baby. And remember, sometimes it can be as simple as her wanting to feel like the baby again, and that’s totally okay.
#4 Create A Sense of Anticipation For Her New Role
After reassuring her that she is still worthy of all the love and attention she had before, and that her role change is just a role change, not a replacement, you can take it up a notch by creating a sense of anticipation for her new role. But do use a sense of timing for this, as there are times when she will need more reassurance that she is still your little girl.
So, how do you create a sense of anticipation? By telling her all the cool things she can do as a big sister. Tell her that she can teach things to the baby, like the names of objects, or how to play with this or that toy. She can even have some responsibilities and privileges that only big sisters have, such as bed-time reminders or getting to choose which animation to watch on Sundays.
#5 Include Her in the Decision-Making and Preparations
Another way to create a sense of pride for her new role is to include her in some of the decision-making and preparations. If it’s pre-birth, things like asking her advice on the baby’s room décor, and if it’s after birth, she can help pick out new clothes or toys.
And if you end up asking her for input on certain things, make sure you take it seriously. One way to do that without letting it get out of hand is to first pick out two or three options that you already approve of, and then ask her to choose the one she thinks is best. And then stick with it. Because if you end up asking for her input and each time going with something else, you’re going to create a sense of self-doubt in the child at an early age.
The great thing about this practice is that, other than helping with this transition, it actually makes your daughter more confident in expressing herself and respecting her own opinion. Though this may be a little difficult in a toddler, it’s very healthy to foster in her as she grows into a strong young woman later on.
#6 Baby & Big Sister Gifts
This is when it gets even more fun. So, other than asking her to give you input on things for the baby, have a special two-way gifting occasion. Let your little girl pick out some new gifts for the baby, and you give her gifts back from the baby.
Some really great big sister gifts to include are big sister shirts. You can also give her some “I’m going to be a big sister” shirts before the birth, or after the birth it could be something that says “big sister, little sister” on it. They’re also great for family photos! Just imagine how adorable she’ll look with a shirt like that while holding her baby sibling.
#7 Show Her How Cool Big Sisters Can Be
Are you yourself a big sister, or do you have big sisters? Share your story with your daughter about what it’s like to have a younger or older sibling. And don’t leave out how it might have been difficult at first, or that even till now you sometimes fight. It’s better to be honest with her, as long as you then show her how awesome it is.
Tell her some funny stories about it. Better yet, if you can, have your sister or brother come over and tell her these stories together. As she sees you bonding with her aunt or uncle, she’ll see that it actually turned out all right.
You can also involve other people. Do you have friendly neighbors with kids that seem to get along? Or maybe nephews and nieces? The more evidence the more reassurance. There are also movies and animations that tell stories of siblings. Those can be a wonderful way to ease her into it indirectly.
#8 Take Her Anger In Stride
The most difficult part of all of this will be the moments when your daughter’s emotions are a little out of control and she can’t help but feel angry or vengeful. This is very common; so don’t be shocked if you hear violent things coming from the lips of your little angel.
If you ask other parents about some of the things they heard or saw the older sibling, even a toddler, say or do to their younger sibling, you’ll soon realize that it’s part of the package. But this doesn’t mean you let it pass without some direction or let any harm come to your baby. It just means you understand what’s behind it and know how to handle it effectively.
What’s behind it is, of course, a sense of jealousy and envy, both of which are stemming from a new insecurity. Your daughter, no matter how well you prepare her, will have moments when she feels negative emotions about such a huge change. And it’s important you do not invalidate those feelings, but help her process them and deal with them in a healthy way.
#9 Maintain Special Alone-Time With The Big Sister
The most crucial thing you can do to help your daughter through this is to make sure that the baby does not take all of your time, and she only gets to be around you if the baby is there too. She needs to feel that she’s just as important to you as she has always been, and it is also really good for you too. You’ll feel better when you bond with your sweetie, just the two of you.
Sometimes with the chaos an infant can bring, we keep postponing the return to normalcy until the baby is at the sleeping-through-the-night stage. But this is detrimental to your daughter’s wellbeing. Children, especially young children, have a very different sense of time than adults. Three months for you could feel like an eternity for her, and she still doesn’t have a grip on what the “future” really means, even if it’s just next week or next month.
#10 Record and Replay
As challenging as this time is for everyone, it is also a magical time and you’ll want to cherish as much of it as you can. The sweet moments, the funny moments, the dead-tired moments, and even the high-pitched screaming moments, those are all part of the adventure. And, because you might be really preoccupied with so much going on, you might end up forgetting to remember them.
Make sure you take videos and photos of this time, and make sure you involve your daughter in this recording of family history. She will never be a big sister of this age again, and each age has new challenge and new lessons. Give her the gift of these beautiful memories and watch them together from time to time. This might be one of the sweetest big sister gifts you can give her.
Here is a few more perks of being a big sis.
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