The 2nd child - lessons learned, tricks 'n stuff to help the older kid?
July 6, 2016 11:14 AM   Subscribe

We've got a wee baby boy on the way and our first child - a girl - is, well, not super-excited about this potential usurper invading her space.

What things worked for you in those early months/years to get an older kid (she's 7) adjusted to the new reality? What didn't work? What do you wish you hadn't said/done?

Personally I'll be relying on whiskey but apparently it's still not okay to give that to 7 year olds so... any help would be greatly appreciated.
posted by HopStopDon'tShop to Human Relations (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My second child slept 20 hours a day for the first 10 months. It was only after he started being awake more that my older son felt imposed upon. (And then he would go "Can you put him to bed?" when he had had enough.)

So, have you told her that babies tend to sleep a lot, so she probably has some time before it becomes a big deal?
posted by Michele in California at 11:19 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have a younger brother who's 7-8 years younger than I am. (Well, I also have 2 other younger brothers who are between the two of us, but that's probably less relevant here.)

I was not interested in another baby around the house during my mom's pregnancy. This was before the era of ubiquitous sonograms, so we didn't know it would be a boy, but I was explicitly NOT EXCITED about having a brother.

Then the baby was born. Everything changed. I loved him sooooooooo much. I took on a pretty large role in caring for him even when he was a baby, and we've always been close.

So the first thing I'd say is to take her lack of enthusiasm with a grain of salt.

Other more general advice: give her space and treat her like the sentient little person that she is. Respect her thoughts. Make sure she gets enough attention.
posted by Sara C. at 11:21 AM on July 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It'll all work out, really; this isn't worth stressing out over. A few things though, as a parent of three:

* the baby is part of OUR family, just like you and her and your partner. I've heard parents refer to the new one as the eldest's baby, like it's THEIR baby.
* start calling the baby by name as soon as you can and try not to refer to it as "the baby." Older kids can get hung up on this "baby" identity and feel a little sad because they're no longer the baby and being the baby is a thing that gets you attention.
* have special 1:1 time with your eldest; have a fun date so they know how much you appreciate them.
* it's also not a great idea to put the "big kid" identity on them; it can feel heavy and the kid wants to be a kid and not feel like they have to grow up now that there's an addition.
* do not be surprised or correct the eldest at all if they say they hate the baby.
* in particular, when your youngest starts moving and becoming a little annoying, it's really okay for the eldest to not like the baby so much.
* along those lines, be careful of language about how much the baby needs you because the eldest can interpret that badly.

But know that no matter how well you do this, it is completely natural for the eldest to regress. Maybe bedwetting, tantruming, whining, thumb-sucking, whatever.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 11:32 AM on July 6, 2016 [14 favorites]

this is more a thing for when they're older, but... do not compare them or pit them against each other. Especially if one of them is the 'good' child and the other... isn't.

My grandma did this to my cousin and me. We were super close as children, practically brother and sister... and then she started comparing him (he was the good boy, did everything grandma wanted, was going to become a doctor) with me (the arty rebel child who was never "bad" but was still never going to be a docile little mouse) and it destroyed our relationship.
posted by Tamanna at 11:44 AM on July 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

My boys are 5 years apart. When I bought home my second I gave him to my 5yr old as a birthday present, (both born in Feb.) The baby gave him a large expensive toy he had wanted for a long time. Oldest helped feed and change baby. They are now in their late forties/early fifties and have been super close all their lives.
posted by donaken at 11:47 AM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

She's had 7 years of all the attention- set things up so that that doesn't go away all at once. Plan for sleepovers with friends for her and special shopping trips with grandma. My son was five when his little sister came along. He had a few moments of jealous behavior after our first few outings. After talking to him, I realized what was happening. He was used to strangers coming up and talking to him, the cute little kid, and now they were coming up and talking about his sister (who looked like a living doll!) and ignoring him. I made a point of saying what a good big brother and sweet helper he was to everyone who looked at his sister. It helped him feel less left out and forgotten. Once she was old enough to move around a bit, I made a big deal about how much she loved her big brother. He was so proud of himself every time that he made her smile or laugh.
posted by myselfasme at 11:55 AM on July 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Try as much as you can to treat them as equals and not just letting the younger one has his/her way because they're younger. My sister was 6 when my parents had me. They let me have my way a lot more and probably often unfairly so (like if i wanted a toy she had, then i was to have it because i'm the baby). I think she was resentful about it for a long time, probably still to this day.
posted by monologish at 11:58 AM on July 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

My brother noticed my eldest nephew (2-3 years old?) leaning over to kiss his new brother and thought it was so cute! Then he realized that big brother was actually biting the newest addition.

So watch out for that I guess.
posted by raccoon409 at 12:11 PM on July 6, 2016 [10 favorites]

Best answer: I was 7 when my brother was born, and holy cow did my life change immediately. I went from being the only kid to a "Big girl" and mother's helper, and my 1:1 time with either parent bottomed out for a long time. My weekly trip with Mom to McDonald's stopped and never came back. I laugh at it now, 36 years later, but at 7 that was a big loss.

So I'd say assure her that she will still have time with both of you, and your special rituals will continue and then stick to that.

My brother and I have always been super-close, by the way.
posted by kimberussell at 12:30 PM on July 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: My kids are only four years apart. But there's a slew of nieces and nephews in my family too. I say this: try not to have people say "oh are you so excited to be a big sister? to have someone to play with?" First of all, babies don't play. Second of all, it presumes excitement. Better is an open ended "how do you feel about being a big sister" and letting her feel what she feels.

Carve out some one-on-one time for the older with both parents. Be careful that the infant doesn't become "mom's" and the older "dad's" - that happened in our house and took a while to sort out.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:34 PM on July 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: There will be many times when the older child will have to wait because mom or dad needs to help the baby. One thing I tried to do was to make an effort to also have times where I purposely put older child's needs first. (Obviously not in a situation where it would harm the baby). For instance, baby might be fussy and needed to be fed, but older child also requested a snack. I would sometimes make a point of saying to baby, "I know you're hungry, but your sister is hungry too, so I'm going to get her some crackers first." And of course this might delay baby's feeding by a minute or two, but I thought it was important for older child to see examples of when her needs came first. Another thing we did before baby was born was spend a lot of time telling older child about what she was like as a baby. Reminiscing, showing her photos and videos. I prominently placed two of her baby photos in the living room next to a current photo. I think this helped a bit to remind her both that babies are tiny and that she had once been a baby too and benefitted from all the attention of her family.
I've found the age gap between my kids to have many advantages. I know my mom (10 kids in her family) is closest to the siblings many years younger who she sort of was "a big sister helper" to when they were young, so that's another anecdote that these relationships can really flourish. Congratulations to your family!
posted by areaperson at 12:47 PM on July 6, 2016 [10 favorites]

One thing I tried to do was to make an effort to also have times where I purposely put older child's needs first.

This is a really great thing to do and goes a long way toward teaching your kid about kindness and fairness.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 12:55 PM on July 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I was six when my charmed only-child life came to a screeching halt. The kindest thing my parents did was to make me responsible for absolutely nothing to do with the baby; I did not change a single diaper until I had my own kid. If I wanted to help, I was thanked, but there was no expectation that I should be a little mummy myself.

I know there is a lot of "involve the older child in baby care, they'll love feeling all grown up!" but I mostly wanted to retreat to Lego/Strawberry Shortcakes/books and amuse younger siblings when I felt like amusing younger siblings, and I would have been quite resentful if told I was going to be responsible for helping out with something that, in my view, my parents had manufactured without my consent.

One thing I never forgot was a charming lady who made my new sister a quilt -- and made me a dolly-sized quilt and pillow. Decades later I am still grateful for that "you're still important" message.
posted by kmennie at 2:25 PM on July 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: My mother is diabetic Type 1 & pregnant with my brother back when there were no home blood tests & you had to boil your syringes after use. So she was in hospital for a big chunk of the pregnancy. So I hated my unborn brother just for that to start with he took my mum from me for 4 months. He also was premie so there were a lot of healthy issues with him that took a lot of my mothers time when he finally did come home. There was also a 6 year age gap between us.

My mother tried to hard to force a relationship early on. Lots of here hold the baby, help me change the baby, bath the baby etc I was never the sort to play with dolls so none of this interested me. The earliest photos we have of my & my brother together is the day they came home from the hospital. Photo one me holding baby on lap looking bored, photo 2 me pushing baby off my lap onto the floor, photo 3 a blur as my father leaps forward to try to catch baby on the way to the floor. While I now have those b&w photos framed & on my wall in series as my family often jokes about it, that pretty much sums up my brother & my relationship with my brother until we he could walk & talk & I could interact with him person to person. Actually about the point my mother stopped trying to force me to like him, & settled for me not trying to actively get rid of him. I would offer him to strangers when we were out shopping for example.

Things I would suggest. Find time for your oldest child. Still do the things you do now, keep the same routines. Have some special one on one time each day. Yes the baby needs you more, but try & put the oldest child first occasionally, yes they can logically understand that the baby needs seeing to first, it doesn't mean it doesn't hurt when you have to "be a good girl & wait" all the time. Let them form their own relationship. My brother & I didn't become close until we were adults, then he got into drugs & messed that up but we are now trying to build a relationship of some sort again now he's he's been clean 6 months. Remember that whatever relationship they have will shift & change none of this is carved in stone.
posted by wwax at 2:27 PM on July 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just remembered other helpful tips:

* wake your eldest kid up for a little 1:1 time BEFORE the baby gets up. While you may also be exhausted, if you can manage afternoon tea together (with the fancy cups) while the baby sleeps. That's a great tradition I had with my kids. As they all got older, we changed tea to every Sunday afternoon and it's a big part of our bonding.

* as soon as you can get the baby to leave the house for stretches of time, do fun things like science and art museums and those paint pottery studios with the older one as the baby sleeps in its carseat. Continue to reinforce that the eldest can keep doing fun things because the baby is portable.

* As hard as it is, try not to overly gush about the baby. Having to keep listening to that is hard for kids.

* Also, when people coo over the baby and say things like, "Are you excited to be mommy's helper?" or something like that, as often as possible try to reframe it more into other things your daughter enjoys. So you could jump in and just say, "_____ is picking up soccer this year and loves it." As often as you can, try not to tie up your daughter's identity with being a big sister.

* Make sure her school knows so they can be on the lookout for signs of anxiety or stress with your daughter.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 2:42 PM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A tip I got from a mother of five was to plan special alone time with each child on that child's birthday day every month. Like, don't tell the child about it, but every month on or about the 22nd (or whatever day), you will spend one-on-one time with child #1 doing a special thing ... just getting a shake or shopping for school clothes is plenty, but you can also do bigger special things. She said it was an easy way to remember to spend one-on-one time with each of her five children every single month and to ensure nobody was getting lost in the shuffle no matter how well-behaved that child was and how intense somebody else's needs got. (Because it is really easy to tilt attention towards the kids whose needs are more intense in the moment!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:41 PM on July 6, 2016 [9 favorites]

My mother (who works as a new parent counselor/professional grandma) has said to take care of the older child first. If both kids are hungry, give the older some crackers before you feed the baby. Your older kid will remember their needs bring pushed aside. Your baby can cry a little longer.
posted by meemzi at 10:14 PM on July 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I had the same situation with my first and second. My first never played with dolls or had ANY interest in babies, so I was worried. There was definitely an adjustment period, and I feel like there is still quite a bit of sibling rivalry three years later.... But at times- most of the time- she loves her brother and can be very kind to him. I always took care of her needs first and tried to wear baby in a moby wrap in the beginning. I was surprised, because I scheduled a lot of mom and daughter outings in the beginning and she didn't seem to need them! She just wanted attention at home. Also, it's great she is older and has a little life of her own, too! By the way, congratulations on the new baby!!
posted by tangomija at 12:17 PM on July 9, 2016

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