Photos taken in collaboration with Deborah Quek
The arrival of a new baby is a huge adjustment for the first child, or previously "youngest" children of the family. This is one of their many transitions in life.
Thus, it can become quite stressful if the child is unable to process their emotions pertaining to the transition.
Elder children may feel ignored, lonely, jealous, sad and scared, and may even experience guilt and shame for feeling that way when the new baby arrives.
Parenting can be less stressful if such transitions are managed well. Empathising, which is putting oneself into the shoes of the other, can ease the pressure of this leg of your parenting journey.
This can be done using what I call the "Thought Bubble Process".
Reflection is the first step in the process. List down all the possible thoughts and emotions you and your children might be holding inside, then ask yourself: What is missing in these thought processes?
Most parents tend to be preoccupied with the new baby’s arrival, unknowingly neglecting the elder child’s emotions.
Some parents have expectations of the older child, that the child has to grow up in order to take on a new role as the elder sibling and adjust to the new environment at home. These expectations can cause immense stress on the first child.
The older child may feel left out or ignored even when their parents and extended family discuss the new baby’s arrival.
Most children feel resentful, sad or jealous when trying to cope with the new environment. Parents, recognise these emotions in your child instead of focusing on how they are behaving should they act out.
I have a daughter and two sons. I remember when my third child was born, my newly minted middle child (once the youngest) seemed curious about this addition.
One day, my little baby started crying very loudly. When I rushed into the room, I asked my son, who was standing beside the cot, what had happened.
"The mosquito came and bit him," he said, and I could guess what had really taken place.
So, I asked him, “Do you feel angry with your little baby brother?”
He said, “Yes, he is always with you and drinking all your milk.”
It turns out that my young son had been feeling jealous that his new brother had been enjoying more time with Mum than he was. To express this unhappiness, he pinched him when I was not looking.
After this incident, I made sure I called him over the next time I fed his baby brother and got him to stand very close to me as I engaged him in simple conversation. After doing this a few times, I could tell that he was feeling better and more assured.
Talking to your older child about how they are feeling, especially about the new addition to the family, is important.
Parents, learn to prepare your older children by empathising with how they feel.
It also involves recognising and validating them for the small attempts they make to adjust and self-regulate. The objective is to help elder siblings feel that they are recognised, not ignored.
Using creative ways to improve your parent-child relationship helps the older child feel safe and secure. Secure children develop well emotionally, mentally, socially and academically.
Always build the child up. Do away with words that criticise, compare, or shame. This stagnates the child’s development!
A child is happy when they feel that the home environment is safe, and this is essential for the development of your new baby too.
Everybody in the family unit needs to feel loved, accepted and respected in order to survive transitions in life. Uphold this togetherness and be mindful of how your elder child is coping with the change.
Dr Monica Fernando is the Director and Family and Couple's Counsellor at Monica's Counselling and Consultancy Services. She offers evidence-based counselling for individuals, couples and families, as well as parenting consultation.