Don’t rush to clear out the nursery when baby number two is on the way. Take some time to prepare your first child instead, writes Colleen Braganza.
After the excitement surrounding the delivery of your firstborn, the birth of a second child seems dull in comparison. Because parents, by now, know the drill. Everything falls into place.
But does it really? You may be familiar with the gynecologist drill and the vitamins and supplements drill, but think about it, this is the first time you will bear a child while rearing a child. And no matter what age, your child will notice that his / her world has changed. That from being the centre of his / her mother’s (yes, father too, but especially mother) universe, s/he is there in the periphery.
That is why experts say you must prepare your child for the arrival of a sibling, especially if your first child is still young, below 6-7 years.
“All children are the centre of their universe. They are completely knocked off the perch when someone new comes in. You need to prepare them. You just can’t hope things will fall into place,” says columnist and family counsellor Gouri Dange.
This doesn’t mean you inform your child of your pregnancy the moment you know about it unless you want to be asked every day for nine months when the baby is coming. “It depends on the age of a child, but the best time to tell is after the first trimester when your pregnancy is visible,” says Dr Megha Hazuria Gore, clinical psychologist with Max Healthcare.
After that it is a good idea to involve your child in preparations for the newborn so s/he doesn’t feel left out. “Involve the child when you prepare a room or cradle or buy clothes,” says Dr Gore.
That’s what mother of three Nomita Mann did. “When I was expecting my second daughter, I told my older girl Neharika that she was going to be an elder sister and she was going to help me.” Neharika did. When her sister arrived, she helped sponge her on weekends, passed diapers when her mother was changing the baby and so on.
Baby on board
Filmmaker Geeta Singh and her husband Avinash involved their seven year old, Varun, when they found another baby was on the way. But it wasn’t planned. “Apart from the initial disclosure, we did not discuss it too much. Varun was involved in the sense he would accompany us to pick up things for the baby. We’d ask his opinion on things we wanted to pick up before baby arrived. He would put his hand on my tummy and found it very funny to feel the baby kick around. The first ultrasound images of the baby he saw left him very, very excited,” says Geeta.
But don’t make the child such a part of the process that you only engage with him / her over ‘baby’ issues. “Give attention to the older child for himself. Have conversations that do not involve the new baby,” urges Dr Gore.
Things are still easier at this stage. It’s when the baby comes that it becomes slightly more complicated. The first few days are particularly difficult because the mother is in hospital and is focusing on the newborn. This is the time the father or relatives should step in to make the older child feel secure and loved.
Many parents also make another common mistake. They wait for the newborn to arrive before making changes long overdue in the child’s routine.
Do not do this. “Anticipate change. Don’t shake up your child’s routine just before or when the new baby arrives. Change any routines like shifting your child from your bed to his / her own much before the baby arrives. Children are very perceptive. They will make a connection that the baby is to blame for the changes,” says Dr Gore.
A lot of love
Sometimes our best efforts don’t work. The older child may resent the newcomer and the demands it makes upon his / her mother’s time. The child may start throwing tantrums or withdraw into a shell. “Also, look out for exceptionally good behaviour. It could be some kind of sadness,” warns Dange.
The only way you can deal with this behaviour is through love. Reassure your child, don’t give him / her an opportunity to feel left out. “Once children are assured that their parents’ love is not limited, they will be fine. Make the child understand that love is infinite, not just through words, but in deeds too,” says Dange.
Often we are so intent on convincing the older sibling that he / she is a ‘big’ boy or girl now, we forget the child is still very young. “An older child is still a child. A three year old may understand things more than an 18 month old, but s/he is still not an adult,” says Dr Gore. Overemphasis on ‘you are a big girl / boy’ now may also lead to regressive behaviour as the child thinks s/he will be better off behaving like a baby since the baby gets all the attention.
Deal with all unusual behaviour by spending more time with your older child. “Play with your older child. Give him / her your complete attention so the child feels that there isn’t a dramatic change in the way people react to it. S/he will then come back to normal,” says Dr Gore.