How to talk to a child about a new member of a family?

For a while before my pregnancy Alicia was asking when she would finally have a sibling. There was time when a question “are you pregnant yet?” was asked on a daily basis. She was excited, impatient, curious. Since she knows where babies come from it happened that we heard something like “I’ll tell Margie to pick me up and you go and try harder this time because I don’t want to wait any longer!”

This is a perfect situation when a child demands a sibling and parents know that they want to have more or they’re even already trying because this very needed acceptance is there from the beginning. However, it doesn’t mean that there won’t be any problems on the because because during 9 months a lot of things can happen and it’s worth to prepare yourself for all kinds of possibilities. Or start from the beginning.

I wrote this post in order to share my experience and I thought that maybe someone’s looking for some advice and can find some help in here :).

Get your older kids involved

I already told you that when I found out I was pregnant I told Nathan as a first person. I wanted to wait before letting Margie and Alicia know because I knew that if Alicia knows then everyone will know. I don’t know why I wanted to wait… I think I wanted to get used to everything myself first. It didn’t last too long because Nate wanted to brag so when his sisters came to town and we went to a restaurant we told them I was 5 weeks pregnant. Alicia was extremely happy, she came up to me and first she couldn’t believe so she would ask “but for real?” but after a moment she started touching my belly. Later I told you about this in this post too.

I’m happy that Nate said it this way (“Aga’s pregnant”) instead of for example “we’re going to have a baby” because then Alicia might have felt kind of insecure, as if her position was threatened because hey… you’re going to have a child? You already have one, me!

I had a lot of doctor’s appointments and I told Alicia several times that if she wanted to go we’d take her so she could see how everything looks and so on. She never went with us but she knew that it wasn’t a problem if she wanted. The door was open and it was her decision. If she wanted to go and I said no she’d feel rejected, totally separated from the whole thing but my pregnancy influenced her a lot too because children go through things like that intensively.

When we were choosing paints for April’s room Alicia was there too. And even though her ideas were crazy (for example, two green walls and two other ones pink with blue dots) I still took her proposals under consideration. The same when I was buying clothes for April – I knew that she hates shopping but even then I told her it’d be cool if she wanted to help me a little. She said she didn’t want to and that was fine, I didn’t have any problem with it. The most important thing was that she knew that her help and opinions count too and she made this decision by herself.

I didn’t tell her everything about all of my appointments, I didn’t tell her all the details about what was happening with me and I sometimes wanted to go shopping by myself and so on, I sometimes didn’t feel like doing something or I wanted to keep something for myself. I think this is ok too because you don’t have to say everything to anyone if you don’t want to. But at the same time I think that it’s very important for an older kid to have a chance to say something and not to be put aside from everything because then she’d feel worse than the one who’s not even born yet. She’d be jealous and not only a parent-child relations would get worse but also she’d resent the little one for the fact that he’s here  and it could ruin their relations from the very beginning. But when she’s involved she feels important and the possibility that there’ll be no jealously but you’ll have a time full of happiness and love is bigger and this is what we want.

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Talk about everything connected to newborns…

…when your older one wants to and only then. Don’t force them. When you see that your kid is bored with this, does something different, starts saying something different or even say directly “I don’t want to talk about it” – respect that, don’t force, don’t say that she “should be interested”. There will be time when she’ll come and starts talking about this by herself which won’t happen if she’s forced.

If you’re pregnant for the second time you have experience. It’s easier then because you just need to remember stuff, take the older one and tell her “when you were so tiny…” You can show her pictures from when you were pregnant with her, right after she was born, a lot of people have photos from the first bath and so on. Then it’s easier for the kid to understand and imagine everything. Of course it also depends on how old the older one is because let’s say a 12-year-old will understand much more and will be able to help much more than a 3-year-old who will have troubles understanding that there, in his mother’s belly, a new human is growing.

In my case it was a little different because Alicia is my stepdaughter and I didn’t have any experience with newborns. Any, never. That’s why I knew that I’d have to learn from the very beginning and I had no idea how everything would go, how I’d do and so on.

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Be honest and talk openly

Let’s face it – children aren’t stupid and have a good memory. Some time ago under a post where I answered your questions I received a comment that made me facepalm (the comment is under the post’s Polish version). Here it is…

How could you tell a small girl that you’ll have less time for her???? You don’t say things like that. I recommend some parenting classes…

And this is what I’m talking about. I personally think that it’s stupid to ensure and promise that nothing will change, that everything will be exactly the same way like it was before the baby was born, that the older one won’t lose any time whatsoever and everything will be beautiful, baby won’t cry and so on. First of all, there’s no way to know things like that until they happen and second, sorry but it’s very unlikely that the birth of a second child won’t change anything in our lives. If I promised Alicia that everything will be the same way and I’ll have the same amount of time for her, later she’d think that I lied, that I hid things from her, that she can’t really trust me much and it’s worth to avoid these problems.

Me and Nate talked with Alicia together several times mostly about her fears that were totally understandable and normal. She was afraid that we’d stop loving her, that April will be the only one who counts and so on. It passed quickly because we listened to everything she said and it didn’t matter what it was. We never said that she shouldn’t say something and she should be happy instead. But there was a moment when she said she changed her mind and she didn’t want this baby in the house anymore and she’ll throw the baby away. And me, full of pregnancy hormones, cried. I didn’t tell her though that “I’m fine” but I shared what was happening, I said I was said and afraid that her mind won’t change and then it’d be very hard to live together. If you experience something like this don’t hide your emotions but share them and confront whatever it is you have a problem with in the way that won’t hurt kids. However, I need to admit that I had more moments when my emotions would blow up and it was when Alicia was sure she didn’t want siblings and she was doing her best to make sure that I knew about it. And it happened to me that I left the room not saying anything and leaving her with her problems by herself. I learned on my mistakes and now I can write this post.

I also spent some time alone with Alicia. I decided to be as honest as I could be. I told her that I had no idea how things would go with April – I didn’t know if she’d be calm or she’d cry a lot, if she’d want to nurse or not, if she’d have tummy issues or not… I told her that I didn’t have any experience with small babies so I had to learn everything from the beginning and I didn’t know how long it’d take and how I’d do. I said that my childbirth would probably go fine but I wasn’t sure either so I didn’t know how I’d feel after I got back from the hospital and how long I’d spent there. I told her, like I told you here before, that I wouldn’t have as much time as before. I explained that I wanted to breastfeed and newborns eat every 2 hours and it doesn’t matter if it’s a day or a night. Moreover, I said that I didn’t know how much time April would spend on my breasts but it was possible that it’d be the way that would let April calm down and sleep normally because before then she spent so much time inside of me and she was used to it (and I was right – April had tummy issues and being on my chest was helping a lot). Also, I said that newborns and small babies in general cry when they need something and this is their only way of communicating that there’s something wrong so it’s not manipulating or anything like this. I also said that for a while I’d probably be sleepy and very tired so I doubted I’d have energy and time to play hide and seek or a ball but I could for example watch a movie or draw something. I assured her that lack of time won’t change my feelings toward her and I won’t stop loving her and taking care of  her. She also heard from me that things would get better as April gets bigger.

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Have a plan and set the boundaries 

In my opinion it’s important to have a plan for the time of labor. I mean to say how everything will look, even more or less. In case of a c-section or an induction you have a date set for a while so it’s easier (unless your baby decides to come sooner). In other cases it’s good to prepare your kid that it’s possible that he’ll see his mom when she’s in a lot of pain but it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong but things go the way they should so there’s no need to worry. We set our plan with Alicia so she knew that whenever my contractions get worse there’ll be time when we’ll call her mother or Margie to pick her up and we’ll drive to the hospital. I told her that I’d spend there probably one day only but if something goes not the way it should I might stay longer. She knew that it’d hurt, there would be blood, I might cry nor not, I wouldn’t have a surgery unless there’s something wrong, etc. The plan was for her to come visit as well but when and for how long depended on how I felt. And then our plan didn’t work because Alicia was with her mother for the weekend from Thursday evening and my water broke on Thursday night so she missed everything. But having the plan was helpful for both her and me.

It’s worth telling your older one that you’d like him to help sometimes (if this is true but you better want to). And everything counts. If the child is older he can change the baby’s diaper or a onesie. If younger, he can give you that diaper or onesie. He can hold a baby’s bath gel or wash your baby. He can play with a newborn laying on the floor or hold newborn on his lap. Depends on the age, how mature your kid is, what you and he want and what you feel comfortable with. I think it’s a good idea to leave some space for both you and your child because – like I said before – you won’t know unless something happens. If your kid doesn’t want to help then don’t force him to and don’t pretend that the baby’s sad because, first of all, if you force someone to something then you’ll never get what you want and second, your newborn doesn’t care so saying that she’s sad is a manipulation. However, it’s a good idea to say that if your older one wants to do something it’ll be great for you because you’ll have less work and you’re already tired so it’ll be a chance for you to rest a little bit. If it’s true.

I’m sure there are also things it’s good to have an eye on but I kind of think it’s better to leave them for after the baby is born. At least I waited. For example, a 2-year-old doesn’t really have a control over her strength she uses to grab toys so she might hurt a newborn a little bit by grabbing his hand too strongly. Don’t yell at him then, don’t tell him not to do it anymore or to be careful and so on. Explain calmly that yes, your sister is crying because you grabbed him too much and it hurt so try again if you’d like but much lighter.

I got scared once when I got back home and I saw Alicia carrying April. I didn’t have anything against her holding April on her lap when she’s sitting but I really din’t want her to carry April. At that time April didn’t have a good head control yet and Alicia didn’t know how to hold her the right way. Now April’s very strong but on the other hand when she swings her body sometimes to the side it’s very important to be careful and even though that Alicia wouldn’t drop her on purpose but, still, it’s a kid who sometimes falls because of her own feet so if April starts wiggling then the risk that Alicia will drop her is too high. That’s why I don’t agree for that. Recently April was laying on her play mat and when she got bored Alicia wanted to put her on the other mat laying close to the first one, she picked her up and she did it not very carefully so April hit the floor with her head and then she cried her eyes out and screamed for 15 minutes. And yes, honestly, I got mad and raised my voice. Later I realized that I didn’t know who I was mad at… Alicia who dropped April and who knew that I didn’t want her to pick April up… but on the other hand she didn’t drop her on purpose. Or Nathan who was there and he let her do it?

However, she helps with bathing her sister, changing her diapers and stuff but she likes playing with her the most.

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Your older kid doesn’t have to love the younger one

There’s no rule saying that a brother has to love a sister and a sister has to love a brother just because they’re siblings. No rule. Rule like this doesn’t exist and nobody will ever set it. And it’s because love isn’t something you can extort on someone, it’s not there because “it should be”. I’m sorry, it doesn’t work this way. And there’s no such thing as “you should love your parents because they’re your parents” but it’s a different story. Therefore, if the older one feels that his position is threatened and that he always was the only child who everybody was amazed with and now he goes a little further away because there’s a baby who people now admire, it’s possible he’ll say he hates his sibling or even worse – he wishes they were never born. The worst thing you can do in a situation like this is to say “it’s your brother/sister so you have to love him/her!”, “don’t you ever say it again!” or “apologize and don’t even think that!” In here I highly recommend using an active listening that I talked about some time ago. Because every child has the right to have their own feelings and has to have a chance to express them! It’s the same thing with parents. And I heard it a lot of times in my life – that I need to love my sister, that I shouldn’t fight with her and things like that. And how it ended? We knew about each other almost nothing for years and there was time when we didn’t even talk at all… living in the same room. Believe me, things like that make things worse.

Realism and honesty are the key

It’s about everything I wrote about but there’s one more thing I need to add! I heard a lot of times that parents buy a gift for the older kid and give it to him after the baby is born saying that this baby brought it. Damn, seriously? Baby growing inside of a belly for nine months who doesn’t speak and walk went out earlier for a moment, chose a gift, bought it and then went back to mom’s belly? Please, don’t make idiots out of your children because it’s just so not cool. The only thing that makes sense is when parents are the ones who bought the gift.

So during my pregnancy Alicia had moments when she cried and screamed and changed her mind and said that we wouldn’t love her for sure, that she had enough and she’s going away. And now she couldn’t be happier, she loves her sister and when she spends a few days with her mother and then she comes here the first person she wants to see is April. Not Nathan who she spent most of her life with before.

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If you have any questions or want to share something, go ahead!

Talk to you next time,

Aga

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