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Sibling Harmony: Building on Lessons Learned

Setting the Scene for Sibling Harmony in your Home.

Setting the Scene for Sibling Harmony in your Home

Back in 2022 when I was expecting baby number 2, I wrote an article on sibling rivalry and what to expect with the arrival of a new baby. The research for that article was beneficial in preparing our own family unit for what was to come. Now with baby number 2 here and an established part of the family I thought it would be useful to revisit the subject with a bit of real-world experience under my belt. If you are expecting baby number 2, or have already given birth, you’re probably wondering how your first child will cope. I hope by following up on my original blog there will be some new and useful tips for encouraging sibling harmony in your home.

Predicting Jealousy in New Siblings

I’m sure it crossed your mind at least once while pregnant if your first will be jealous of their new brother or sister. Perhaps they may have tantrums, be mean, or even be aggressive towards you. Maybe they will regress in some things they were previous doing well with, such as potty training. All of the above are perfectly normal emotions a toddler or child can feel when a new baby arrives. They are all strong emotions, but a new baby is a major thing for everyone in the family and normally it will take some time for everyone to adjust to a new routine. The good news is that you will get there and everything will be ok!

Not all children react this way though. Some children welcome the new baby with open arms and never have any issues at all, even long for a younger sibling whom they can play together with. When I was pregnant with my second I wondered and stressed a lot over how Maddy would react when her baby sister arrived. For three years she had been our main focus, we did a million activities together, days out, and holidays, all with just the three of us. Also keeping in mind she was essentially a lockdown baby, she had grown up accustomed to being the center of attention, and always having 2 parents at her beck and call. How would she feel after the baby comes and she would no longer be the sole focus?

In our case, we were pleasantly surprised to see Maddy absolutely adored her baby sister from the moment she saw her in the hospital. She constantly wanted to hold her, and even to help me looking after her. She kept asking when she could play (in her mind she was expecting a readymade playmate from day one), and of course, the older Ilyana got the more things she could do.

It’s not all positive though, as Ilyana’s newest thing is hair-pulling. As you can imagine, she gets quite a reaction from her older sister even though Maddy is quite patient with her! We often hear her explaining to Ilyana that doing that is ‘not very nice and it hurts, so if you could please stop’. She sounds so big when she talks like that and she’s only 4.

When she’s in a less playful mood, Ilyana loves cuddling Maddy. She goes and sits on her sometimes, or even lays on her head, and still Maddy will laugh and give her lots of cuddles back. So as you can see not every child reacts in a bad way, and even when there’s some fighting (which is to be expected) you can still achieve sibling harmony.

How to Prepare your Child for Baby’s Arrival

We did our best to include Maddy in everything from the very start, which included doctors visits and baby scans. Talking constantly about the baby in mummy’s tummy, and how it was growing, helped her realise and understand what was going on. During the baby scans, Maddy could see the baby move around, and even see her face (we had 4d scans via Window to the Womb). The sonographer was more than happy to answer all of Maddy’s questions and based on our experience we would recommend including your children in the scan if possible. Perhaps a cautionary note, it may be sensible to ensure everything is ok with the scan prior to inviting children into the room.

Baby scan to encourage sibling harmony

My partner also bought her an ‘I’m a big sister‘ book from a local bookshop. Maddy loved reading it, and even now sometimes still wants to read it at bedtime even though her sister is one year old already. This cute book explains in very simple words what will happen when baby arrives and that the love for her will never change.

Something very cute you can do is visit a baby shop together and let your child choose a cuddly toy for when baby comes home. Maddy still remembers the little lamb she bought for Ilyana, in fact, it probably means more to her than it ever will to her little sis! 

Introducing Baby for the First Time

When Ilyana was eventually born it was my wish that the first time Maddy was introduced to her little sister that it would just be the 4 of us present and no other family. I felt this would ensure the focus would be on Maddy, and not just the new baby. This was her chance to bond, and be the first to cuddle her new sister. When she arrived I made sure I wasn’t holding the baby, and instead left her in the cot to not overwhelm her big sister. Maddy sat on the bed with me till she was ready to cuddle her little sister, and when she did i’ll never forget the smile on her face, she was ready to take her sister home!

Maintain Existing Routines Wherever Possible

Of course, after giving birth I was constantly tired, and having to split my time between Maddy and the new baby naturally led to mum guilt.

like any mum, I tried my best to have that much-needed one-on-one time with my eldest. We played and read books, and I made sure our bedtime routine never changed, just me and her reading books and then going to bed together. Inevitably, at some point, Maddy wanted to sleep in our room again, undoubtedly because she saw Ilyana in there and felt left out. I allowed her to come back for as long as she needed, as I never wanted her to feel excluded. I never wanted her to feel that it was unfair that Ilyana could be in our room but not her, and I knew that when the time was right she would go back to her room of her own accord. There is a lovely book called ‘I Will Always Help You Sleep’ which explains how important it is to make your child feel safe with you helping them to sleep or while co-sleeping. Find the book here, and you can also read more on our blog about safe co-sleeping.

Including Older Siblings in Caring for your Baby

Its not always easy to divide your time between two children, so asking your oldest to help out with a baby is very useful. This can be simple things like using the sponge during bath time, or if they are brave enough, helping change nappies. Maddy would hold my breast while I was feeding Ilyana. and although it would drive me crazy, (as I was so touched out) it made her feel helpful so I bit my tongue many times! Thankfully that phase didn’t last long for Maddy.

Having a very calm and healthy home environment is also very important for welcoming another baby into the household as this creates a good place for bonding with the sibling. Maddy and Ilyana have a very strong bond and they really love each other. Whether that comes down to all the things we did or it’s simply down to nature we will never really know, but I do believe some of what we did helped.

Negative Behaviours to Expect with New Arrivals

Now let’s look at some negative behaviours that can happen when baby arrives and what we can do to combat them.

Like I said before any behavioural issues you notice when the baby arrives are normal and this is because your child might be feeling “pushed out“, even though you are not doing this. Working on this will take time and lots of patience which will be hard because you are probably going to be tired enough already.

One big piece of advice I can give is when your child has a tantrum, bites, hits you, or even attempts these things with baby, get to their level and speak with a calm voice and explain how these things can hurt you or baby. Explain how this behaviour can be dangerous, tell them that you understand how they are feeling at that moment, and ask if they need a cuddle.

Try to have that one-on-one time with your oldest, and if baby doesn’t like to be put down I highly recommend a sling so you can hold baby and play with your oldest at the same time. It’s important to try not to change routines too much at first, this might mean asking your partner to have the baby so you can take your oldest to the park, soft play or simply go in a different room to read or play together. 

Building Sibling Harmony Over Time

Encouraging sibling harmony amidst the excitement of welcoming a new family member requires patience, understanding, and a proactive approach. In this blog post I have offered an insight into the approaches that we took and what worked for us, although every family will have its own unique dynamics and subsequently different requirements. Finding methods that work for your family can help you create the right environment where siblings can bond and thrive together. From involving older children in caregiving tasks to maintaining existing routines, every action you take is important and will reflect in the relationship between your children.

Going from having one child to two is no small thing, and learning the ins and outs of siblinghood certainly comes with its own hurdles to navigate. Just remember that with time, patience, and understanding, your children will bond and thrive together.

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