A Whole New World with Two: A Mini-Guide to Preparing a Sibling

We hear from parents all the time who are thinking about having a second child or preparing for a second about nearly universal kinds of worries – the worry variety we are talking about today is all about your relationship with your older child. Parents worry will there be enough of me to go around, will I love my second child as much as my first, will my older child hate us for bringing another child into our family…

Our second came along 8 years after our first so our eldest knew exactly what she was missing. We did a large amount of preparation and relationship building during pregnancy and lots of work in the first year to communicate how solid our relationship was with her. We experimented a lot and had a fair number of winner ideas. See if they might click with your family, or inspire your own versions.

Special Time: The heart of our relationship building work is a practice called SPECIAL TIME that is taught through the Hand in Hand Parenting Approach. Special Time is, well, special. It’s a little different than simply playing with your child because they KNOW they are in the driver’s seat and they LOVE it.

The basic guidelines are

  • This is child-led time – they choose what the activity will be and as much as possible, you say YES.
  • 100% of your attention is directed at beaming your approval, delight and appreciation of what they are doing and who they are.
  • Use a timer – this ensures that your attention stays 100% tuned in to your child AND if they choose an activity that you despise then you’ll be super relieved when the timer goes off.

Before Baby – laying the groundwork for good communication and boosting your connection BEFORE a sibling arrives can prevent some off-track behaviors from even starting.

  • It’s not going to be all rosy and shiny and it’s OK to admit that it might be hard or annoying. These conversations might have a conspiratorial tone or a silly tone. You might bring in a doll to bear the brunt of your responses. One parent can pretend the doll is crying and the other parent runs away with the older child and hides under a blanket. You bumble around in a clearly pretend/silly way with a crying baby doll totally unsure of what to do – does the baby need a dinosaur ride? How about a ride on my head? Whatever you have to do to get your older child giggling. Follow the laughter for what Hand in Hand Parenting calls PLAY LISTENING.  This laughter helps children work through fears.
  • No matter what irrational (or totally legit) fear your older child has, do what you can to reassure them ahead of time. In our case, we created an somewhat elaborate gate system to “protect big kid stuff”. We knew it would be MANY months before her little sister would actually be able to get into her stuff but we put the gates up anyway so she got the message loud and clear that we were listening and would act.

After Baby – Most of this work is reassuring, relationship strengthening and marking territory. Reality has set in and they might be scared that they’ve been replaced. They may be sensing a lower strength connection and feeling anxious about it.  Letting these feelings flow without trying to talk them out of it or looking for silver linings is very healing. Hand in Hand Parenting calls this STAY LISTENING.

  • Say YES to helpers who can stay with the baby while you spend even 5 minutes doing SPECIAL TIME with your older child. If it can be a regular date, even better. Can you do solo pick up or drop off to childcare? Can your partner jump in with SPECIAL TIME in the evening or do baby time while you do big kid time? Often mornings are easier with babies so a weekend baby date for an hour with a friend or family member could free up a special playground trip or coffee shop treat with your older.
  • Say NO to your baby sometimes. If your baby is doing some non-urgent, low-grade squawking and your older child needs something, make a little show of telling your baby that they’ll just have to wait a couple of minutes while you help your older child.
  • Playfully protect your older child’s beloved space and things. If you’re playing trains with your older child do a little playful gloating about how the baby just can’t play with these things. If your older child has their own bed or room you can play a game of making “no babies allowed” signs. These little shows of marking territory make your older child feel safer and more secure in their world which generally translates to less off-track behavior.
  • “The baby insisted” This has been a fun way to bring in some extra treats. If your child is asking for something at the store you might pretend that the baby is agreeing and be bullied into saying yes by the baby – “2 against 1? No fair! You two are always ganging up on me!”. Or come home with a cookie because the baby MADE you buy for her big sister it at the coffee shop.
  • “Wait, you’re not the baby!” Playfully mix up your older child with the baby. My husband had a nightly routine of taking the baby for a walk in an Ergo while I did bed time with our older. Most nights he would mistake our older child (who was 8!) for the baby and clip her into the Ergo.  I would roll my eyes and say “Um, you mixed up the kids again.  I need that one!” Mistakenly start to put a newborn diaper on your big kid, try to fit them in the baby tub, start to feed them a bottle…

Keep an eye out for our every other month Blossoming Newborns for 2nd+ Timers and SIBLING topics in our monthly Hand in Hand Parenting classes where we’ll talk about these ideas and all kinds of Sibling Rivalry prevention and treatments.  We hope to see you there!