One of the most exciting (and frightening) things a little girl can hear is “You are going to be a Big Sister.” It’s exciting because she likes the idea of having a tiny little person that’s “her” little brother or little sister that she can help take care of. In her mind she’s thinking “Hmmm, just like my doll – I can dress it and feed it… “. And it’s frightening because invariably she will begin thinking about what will happen to her. Will mommy and daddy still love her as much? Will they still pay attention to her? What role in the household will she play?
When our daughter was four years old, we presented her with the news that she was going to have a new little brother. She reflected for a moment and then corrected us by saying “No, a new little sister.” Well, that was one of those areas that we couldn’t exactly compromise on and had to explain that a little brother was on the way and made him sound as exciting as possible. They are now both teenagers and given the way they argue sometimes, we think that we might have oversold the benefits of the little brother, as our daughter currently isn’t seeing any advantages at all.
One of the most important things parents can do to ease the feelings of the child during the pregnancy is to keep them involved. No matter what the age, the sister can be asked for input on how the nursery should be decorated (Do you think your baby brother would like Donald Duck or Mickey Mouse?), on clothes and various other baby related purchases. When the big sister is part of the process, her fear of being ignored will begin to ease. Of course, once the younger child reaches the age of ten or twelve, the opinions of the older sibling are no longer welcome or appreciated.
The second thing that parents can do is to help define the role that the older sibling will take. This role will vary somewhat depending on the age of the older sibling. Even if the “big sister” is just a couple of years older, there are many things that they can be told the parent will need “help” with. For instance, giving baby a bath can mean a lot of things. Obviously, a two year old can’t give the baby a bath solo, but can certainly stand right by mom and assist by handing her all the items she’ll need. Or during bottle time, she can become the official “temperature” tester to make sure that the formula isn’t too hot or too cold. One of the most wonderful “involvement” techniques that have been used is that of the “official story teller” which has double rewards. Obviously, the baby will benefit from being read to, but the older sister will also improve her reading skills as well as feel pride in her “official” role.
A wonderful item that we think will help the older sibling feel “needed” is the “Big Sister’s on Duty” Tool Belt. Picture a canvas tool belt with the words “Big Sister’s On Duty” embroidered in pink across the front, and tucked into the belt are all the items a big sister would need to help give baby a bath – baby wash, baby shampoo, washcloth, powder, a baby bath toy and even a couple of treats for the big sister herself. A great time to present this is at the baby shower. While she’s watching mom open up all the great gifts for baby, if mom comes across a gift especially for the Big Sister, she’ll fell extra special.