Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Siblings - preparing for the new sibling

I mentioned last week that I would share some of our parenting approaches to managing our two little munchkins so for today's post, I'm going to talk about how we helped Ryan adjust to having a little sister.

Ryan was 3.5 years old when babydoll was born. When babydoll arrived, Ryan wasn't overcome with joy and he wasn't overflowing with brotherly love. Neither was he mean towards babydoll. He was actually quite unaffected, either way. I attributed his outlook to the fact that, throughout my pregnancy with babydoll, I never told Ryan that he was going to be a big brother, that he had to love his sister, that he had to look after her, etc. I know many (most) parents do all that and I'm not criticising them here; I just had different objectives.

First of all, I wanted our time together to be focused on the present. I did not want him to feel that (even before the baby arrived) I was stealing time away from him to focus on her.

Secondly, I did not want to impose any expectations on him nor stress him in any way about how he should treat his sister. I did not believe, and still do not believe, that I could dictate his feelings. It made no sense to me to oblige Ryan to love this person from the moment she appeared. If he does, great. If he doesn't, nobody can force it. I trusted him to find his own relationship with his sister. In the same vein, we did not buy a sibling gift for Ryan. I know many parents do and, again, I'm not criticising them. We just didn't feel right doing it.

Thirdly, I did not want to burden him with thoughts of change. I didn't want him to worry - sometimes things are more scary in our minds than they actually are. The things that were most important would not change (our love for him and his being a part of the family) and there was no need for him to think about the rest.

Underlying all my reasons was the fact that I myself did not know what it would be like once babydoll was born so I didn't feel right giving Ryan instructions and advice. To me, we would go through it together and learn together.

It may seem like we did nothing to prepare Ryan for babydoll's arrival but I actually think that we did prepare him for it. Instead of filling him with abstract thoughts and expectations of the future, we chose to use the time to focus on strengthening our bond with him and to give him a sense of security.

In the same way that we did not mention babydoll during my pregnancy, we also did not force babydoll onto Ryan at all when she arrived. We never asked him to hold her, to hug her, to kiss her. We never told him to wait because of the baby. We never asked him to pass us the wet wipes for changing Rachel's diaper when he was in the midst of watching a video. We never asked him to talk softly because the baby is sleeping (we would give other reasons). We just never imposed her on him. Basically, we let him discover babydoll on his own.

It was pretty easy to do, really. Babydoll was sleeping most of the time and when she was awake, she was content to play on her own. There was no need for any sibling interaction, no need to fight over toys, no need to push for space, no need to accommodate each other. We didn't force Ryan to take on brotherly duties - if we didn't make it an issue, there was no issue. People would ask me how Ryan was adjusting. I would say, there's nothing to adjust to, really, because they don't have to get in each other's faces.

An important thing that we did was to make sure that, if Ryan needed attention, he would have it. If I was carrying the baby and he needed me, I would put the baby down or pass her to Richard. If I could not (for eg. if I was nursing), I would still give Ryan the attention he needed - I would listen to him, talk to him, admire his projects, hug him close, whatever he needed. We didn't treat him any differently from when he was an only child.

Sometimes Ryan would ask for attention when he sensed that his sister was getting a lot of attention. Sometimes he would be whiny about it, sometimes he would throw a fuss. It was a clear expression of a need for reassurance and reaffirmation. A critical part of our approach was that we never punished him or made him feel bad. We always responded with as much love and reassurance as he needed. We acknowledged how he felt and reassured him that nothing had changed for him. It always worked. He always regained his happy composure quickly.

So, from Ryan's point of view, his world didn't change much, at least not in the ways that would have mattered to him. He felt no threat, no stress, no insecurity, no unhappiness. As a result, there was no change in his behaviour. He was the same, happy boy he had always been.

This is not to say that Ryan and his sister led separate lives. We did not keep Ryan away from babydoll or vice versa. Quite the contrary, in fact. Babydoll was an inseparable, albeit a latent, part of his life, even if he didn't realise it at that time. I would say that this was another important part of our approach. I wanted to ensure that Ryan never felt like an outsider and that, conversely, he never got the impression that his sister was an outsider. If Ryan wanted to sit next to her, he could. If Ryan wanted to touch her, he could. If he wanted to play with her things, he could. If he felt like ignoring her, that was fine too.

Ryan watched me talking to babydoll, hugging her, carrying her, feeding her, singing to her. Sometimes I would talk to him about her. Not to instruct him on how he should feel towards her or what he should do, but just to tell him little stories about her or explain what she was doing or what I was doing with her.

Gradually, as time went by, the new family dynamic became the norm. Ryan accepted that it was going to be the four of us now and he accorded babydoll her place in the family. Now he is fine if I tell him that I can't attend to him straightaway because I need to finish something with his sister. Sometimes I ask him to hold her hand if they go walking and he's perfectly happy to do that. He's good about sharing his snacks and food with her. Basically, things have fallen into place on their own.

I can't say that our method will work for everyone, but it worked for us, so I hope it gives you some ideas and some inspiration if you are in the same situation. Whichever way you choose, I guess it boils down to ensuring that your older child does not feel threatened or stressed about the new arrival, allowing your older child to express his/her feelings about the new arrival (however they may choose to express them) and respecting their feelings about the situation.


Anonymous said...

What is sibling gift, Leona?
Never heard of that, well, perhaps not in my culture.


Pinkie Pirate said...

Hi M! A sibling gift is a gift that you buy for the older sibling and give it to him when the baby arrives. You tell the older sibling that it's from the new baby. I didn't do this though. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, your thoughts are very interesting :). So, what would be your approach if the younger one gets upset and starts to hit the elder one? It happens to me for half a year already and mind you neither the mom nor dad lay their hands on the children during discipline time.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for explaining, Leona.

Hmm...if I were the older sibling, I'd wonder how could a newborn baby buy me a gift! :-p

I have heard the gift that the husband buys for the wife for delivering the baby, and was rather surprised by that.
No offence, it's a sweet act, but honestly, I think the baby himself is the best gift for both of them.

By the way, did Ryan ever ask you, why was your tummy big during the pregnancy.
And did he ask who is the little baby when Rachel is born?


Pinkie Pirate said...

Hi M, no Ryan never asked about the tummy. He did giggle and say it's big! He didn't specifically ask who the baby was - he walked up to the baby and we just told him, look at the baby!

Pinkie Pirate said...

Hi Anonymous, sorry to hear about the hitting going on between the siblings. I've set out some thoughts in my post here - http://bubble-belly.blogspot.sg/2013/11/ask-and-answer_8.html Hope you find some useful stuff there.

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