Tips to Build Sibling Attachment
By Anna Stewart
Ask a pregnant mother what her fears are and the answer may surprise you. With the first baby, fears tend to be about the pain of childbirth, financial woes and loss of independence. The second time around, a parent knows how to care for an infant and how quickly the dependent infant becomes a struggling-for-independence child.
But for many parents pregnant with the second, the fear is about the first child. How will she handle the new baby? How am I going to give my first the attention she is used to?
Preparing the first child for the arrival of the second is a big concern. Lorna Benton, MSW, specializes in working with children. “As long as a child is perceiving that their needs are being met, everything will be copasetic,” she said. “The difficulty is separating their wants from their needs. Healthy children want to please their parents and to be part of the process of including a new child into the family.”
Love enough for everyone
Some kids need to be reassured that love is not a finite thing like a carton of milk. It doesn’t run out. Having another child means there is more love, not less. Love grows like kids do.
Even with lots of books, movies and discussions, the reality of a new baby taking Mom and Dad’s attention can cause some kids to exhibit regressive behavior. One friend’s daughter started peeing in places other than the toilet. Benton said much of kid’s behavior is metaphoric — in this case, the child was pissed off at her mother.
As long as communication between parents and children is clear and developmentally appropriate and children are involved with their siblings, their relationship has a good foundation.
Building strong attachments
Good sibling attachment can begin at birth with siblings present or nearby (whatever is comfortable for them). Excluding the older child from the arrival of the sibling, an event loaded with energy, can start their relationship with the experience of separation rather than inclusion.
Try these tips for good sibling attachment.
• Involve your older child in decisions about the baby such as things the baby might like —perhaps a stuffed animal or deciding where her car seat should go.
• Find activities or rituals to demonstrate that the new baby is not just Mom and Dad’s baby but is the family’s baby, such as including her in the dinnertime blessing.
• Making a picture or paint a shirt with fabric paints for the new baby.
• Watch movies and read books about having a new sibling.
• Include your child at the birth. Assign a friend or family member to be in charge of him. Allow him to come in and out of the room, as he needs to. Don’t ask him how he is doing, as it puts the attention on him and he will not want it.
• Have your older child cut her sibling’s umbilical cord, with adult help.
• With good preparation on what to expect as well as the freedom to come and go, most kids are perfectly capable of handling birth. It connects them to the emotions and energy of the magnitude of the new baby being in their lives.
Just like the older siblings, all children do best when they receive plenty of appropriate attention and energy from their parents. Kids can be amazingly resilient and present. We all want to feel included, valued and loved by our family.
© Anna Stewart
Anna Stewart, B.A., C.M.T., C.H.T., mothers three young children, one with special needs. In her classes, workshops and services, she weaves her expertise as a professional writer, creative artist and student of rhythm dance. Anna offers a number of classes in the Boulder, Colorado, area. She can be reached at (303) 499-7681 or via e-mail at anna (at) motherhands.com. Her web site is ww.motherhands.com.