While the arrival of a second child is a joyous time for parents and family, it may be a mildly traumatic and perplexing event for the older child. As parents negotiate the practical aspects of managing their new family constellation, their firstborn struggles to understand, accept and tolerate sharing parental love and may be concerned about losing his/her primacy in the family. How can parents help their older child embrace the status of the eldest child.
Most parents today begin the process of introducing the older child to the baby during pregnancy. They explain the infant’s growth in the mother’s abdomen, permit the child to touch and feel the baby’s movements, sing and talk to the baby in uterus, read books and allow the oldest child to ask questions as they answer them honestly in an age appropriate way.
The firstborn is often welcomed in preparations for the baby’s room, selecting toys for the infant and being relegated in advance to act as the nurturing “teacher” for the newborn. Some parents are less attentive to the psychological preparation needed in reassuring the youngster that he/she will always be loved, adored and special to them as much as he/she has always been.
Some common psychological difficulties of firstborn children are associated with the bewilderment about the parents’ need for another baby. As a firstborn child I remember asking my parents what was wrong with me that they needed to have another baby. As frugal people they never bought anything new unless the previous item was damaged, or overused. My immature conclusion was that I was blemished or displeasing to them and thus they chose to have another child. An articulate seven-year-old boy who had two younger brothers once proclaimed, “I would have been much better off being an only child.”
The anticipated loss of parental love, attention and primacy at any age is profoundly distressing and may impact the individual’s relationship with his/her siblings for life. Research at Purdue University analyzed the relationships of 341 children in 174 families reported, “When adult children perceived that their fathers favored any particular child, there was a higher tendency of sibling tension in those families.”
The psychological difficulties of first-born children regarding the arrival of another baby are akin to an adult’s experience of being left by a beloved for a new partner. The rejection is profoundly painful and non-rectifiable. It leaves the child or the adult doubtful about his/her capacity to please and to be secure about receiving love.
Prepare your child to welcome the baby:
- Include your child in the developing stages of pregnancy.
- Title your firstborn as the older sibling/teacher/helper and wise protector of the baby.
- Reassure your youngster that he/she will always be your first child and loved for life.
- Explain that parents have enough love to share with all their children.
- Keep praising your oldest for being a kind, helpful, competent and caring oldest child that the baby will always cherish.