The Second Child Around!
Dr. Mona Youssri is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, family counselor and certified trainer accredited by Oxford Press. She has a Masters of Arts in International counseling from the American University in Cairo, is an affiliated International member of the American Psychological Association and a life time member of the International Honor Society in Psychology (PSI CHI). She is founder and owner of The Creative Learning Center, an early literacy based preschool with a unique child psychology based curriculum.
The Second Child Around!
During the first pregnancy, the mother is usually preparing her body for the changes, reading about breastfeeding, wondering how she will cope with the sleep irregularities and of course learning how to change the diapers. The second time around, the mother is usually not worried about all of these already acquired experiences, but is mainly focusing on two things: How she will cope with two children of different ages and needs at the same time and how her older child will react to the new addition to the family. It is also very common for the mother to worry about whether she will ever be able to love another child the same way? Or even, feeling guilty of ever loving the second child, as if it’s cheating on her first born.
So, when should you bring about the happy news? And how?
My advice is wait at least 3-4 months till your obstetrician confirms that you have a healthy stable pregnancy. There is no need to hurry and tell your baby subjecting him to frustration if the pregnancy doesn’t continue. And it would be even better if you could wait till your baby’s sex is identified, which is around the 5th month of pregnancy.
Buy a couple of books that show how a baby is sleeping and feeding in their mother’s tummy. Talk about how your first child was in there and kept growing till it was time to come out. Show the child his/her baby photos and describe what you used to do for him, like hold him in your arms, how you nurse for food, how you change the diaper and how you sing to sleep. All of these scenarios should be acted out with dolls, teddy bears or with the child himself. This will be called “The baby game” which the child might need later on when the baby really arrives.
This will all help the child to expect what is coming, the crying baby, mummy holding someone else, mummy giving her boobies to a crying little creature, or changing a poopy diaper.
It will also make it clear that having a brother or sister will not mean having a playmate right away, because that’s what a lot of parents imply when they tell there first child he is getting a sibling.
Even before telling your child he is getting a sibling, think what you need to do for your first child before the baby arrives. For example, if you need your child to start going to a nursery or to be diaper free, you need to do it either before announcing the pregnancy or some months after the delivery. The same applies to any big or major change in your family life, like moving to a new house or changing the child’s bed.
It is not recommended for the child to go through more than one major life change at a time.
You also need to be proactive about what will happen on the baby delivery day and the following few days when the mother is unable to fully take care of her first child.
I would advice against the child attending the birth processes to protect him from seeing the mother in pain which could be interpreted as “this baby hurt my mom”
In order to do this, the child needs to be already used to spending the night at his grandmothers or aunt or a trusted caretaker. To achieve this, it has to be practiced regularly all through the pregnancy months. This way when the delivery day arrives, the child will spend the night away easily and smoothly and later when the mom recovers from the hard part, the father can go pick up the child, tell him that the baby has come out and encourage celebration by going to buy two presents, one for the child himself to reinsure that its an event to celebrate and one for the baby to encourage empathy.
I am totally against telling the child that the baby got him a present, firstly because its wrong to lie to a child in any way, secondly because the child is usually clever enough to wonder, how did this helpless creature go and get me a present? Which explains why a lot of children have a confused look on their face when they are told, the baby got them a present!
It is traditional in Egypt that the mother would go and spend weeks at her own mothers house so that she could get the care and help she needs. This is probably ok after her first delivery, but the second time around where there is an older child, this is not advisable at all. The first child will desperately need to keep his daily routine stable, meaning he needs to sleep in his own room, play with all his favorite toys and go regularly to his nursery or school. If you turn all his life upside down, this will definitely have a dramatic effect. So it is best that you ask for help in the comfort of your own home.
Taking the baby Home
It is such a lovely day when the whole new family comes home from the hospital, but do be careful. If your first child is used to his mummy holding his hands up the stairs, that’s exactly what she should do. So the baby should either be carried in a baby chair by a helping family member or by his father. And in cases where the father is the one used to carrying the first child up the stairs, then again, he shouldn’t replace the older child with the baby.
The quality time
Some mothers tend to increase their playtime with their first child right before the delivery, thinking this would compensate the child for not playing with him for weeks after the delivery. My advice is schedule a 1:1 play time during pregnancy that you could keep up and continue upon arrival of the new family member.
Choose the time and activities that you can really continue with your new schedule that includes a crying baby and sleepless nights. The important thing is to make sure that that 1:1 activity you choose includes eye contact, emotions, empathy and love. During this quality time, avoid distractions like the TV or telephone calls. Be absolutely and completely devoted to your child at that time.
Now all your relatives, friends and neighbors start coming around to congratulate you for the new arrival. But all your first born sees is a lot of excited people about the new baby, forgetting the lonely child observing all the facial reactions and presents and smiles that are not coming his way. And sometimes visitors make it even worse by telling the child that this baby is crying all the time and cannot talk or do any of the skills his older sibling has. This automatically implies to the child that he is superior to his sibling and in a lot of cases when these words are accompanied by yucky facial impressions towards the baby (intended to be compassionate with the older child) they result in the child thinking the baby is bad. So that’s how hitting the baby starts, because we have managed to convince the child that the baby is bad!
How to handle the situation
So now the family is settled back home, the older child is practicing his accustomed daily routine with one change which is the newest addition to the family, a loudly crying addition, changing at least the noise level in the house.
Here are a few tips to ease in and involve your child with his new sibling:
- Satisfy your child’s curiosity about the baby by answering his questions, educating him about the baby’s needs and encouraging him to identify and express the experienced emotions. If the child is still incapable of identifying emotions, the parents can dedicate a special game for this task like helping the child understand at least the three emotions: happy, sad and angry.
- Allow your child to help with the baby, like bringing you diapers, helping to clean up (but on two conditions: always under your supervision and being careful not to over do this). Also avoid repeating the he is your big child and the baby is small because again this implies that he is superior and the baby is bad.
- The “baby game” described earlier will satisfy the need of your child to be babied and will reassure him that mummy loves me in the same way. It will also prevent regression of any skills, which is very common, to achieve the same type of attention the baby is getting.
- Make sure you don’t forget about the special 1:1 time! It should not be replaced by cartoons or any other unfulfilling activity.
- Train your child to pat very gently on the baby’s hand or feet; this can be practiced on a doll during pretend play before the delivery. That way violent unintended acts towards the baby are proactively avoided.
Hopefully the second time around is smooth for the family, the new sibling impact is reduced and a healthy family bond is on the rise.
Boyse, K. (2009, October 1). New baby Sibling. Retrieved from http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/newbaby.htm
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