You’ve probably heard the popular analogy used to help us understand the emotions a firstborn child might feel when discovering that a sibling is on the way. One day your partner puts an arm around you and says, “Sweetheart, I love you so very much that I’ve decided to have another wife (or husband or partner) just like you. Aren’t you excited?”
Taking it further . . . the new partner moves in and is younger, maybe even cuter than you, and your partner seems extra smitten with this new addition to your family. You’re miserable and confused, and you act out by throwing things, crying, stamping your feet, maybe even pinching her/him when your partner isn’t looking!
Funny, yes, but also a sad commentary on the mainstream idea that introducing a new sibling to a firstborn child is going to be fraught with trouble, and if you don’t do it right you can really mess up your kid. No wonder so many parents expecting a second child have such deep anxiety about the possible challenges!
And truthfully, it doesn’t have to be this way! Adding another child to a family is a wonderful and perfectly natural thing to do. Expanding your family is a joyful, fun and rewarding experience, and it can be that way right from the beginning.
Your firstborn may be a baby himself, or he may be a school-aged child when he hears the news. Either way, he can create a strong relationship with his new sibling from the start. It’s a connection that begins even before the baby is born.
Our mission at the Reading Womb is to educate parents about the importance of bonding with babies through reading, books and story-time, so it will be no surprise to you that we believe that this is also the case for building strong sibling relationships.
By the time your second child comes along, hopefully you’ve already established a regular literacy routine. Maybe you even read to your first child in utero and he’s a book lover already. You know that our tagline is “It’s never too early to read to your baby,” but it can also be said that “It’s never too late.” Whether storytime is a part of your family’s schedule or not, reading to your firstborn and expected child at the same time is way to continue or ingrain a practice that is integral to successful families (see this post for more on this).
As you know, the amount and the quality of talk that a child hears is an important predictor of academic success and general well-being, so you might as well make lots of this talk about family. If a child regularly hears enthusiastic talk about how he’s a part of a family, an incredible, dynamic family that changes and grows, and has heard this since his very first days, then the introduction of a sibling will be expected and even welcomed!
Of course, we feel that there’s no better way to teach your child about families than through books, and there are some fantastic ones that are perfectly suited to this purpose.
- The Family Book by Todd Parr is a colorful, simple, and beautiful book that will be enjoyed by all children, in utero and out, and that celebrates all kinds of families, what they look like (“Some families are the same color. Some families are different colors.”) and what they do (“All families like to hug each other!”). The Family Book will help young children to understand that families change and grow, but what’s most important is the love they share.
- We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, written by Michael Rosen and beautifully illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, is a fun take on the old rhyme that shows a family going on a rousing adventure together, helping each other overcome obstacles and having a great time along the way. Children who hear this book regularly will come to know that anything and everything is more fun when you do it with your family.
- Owl Babies by Martin Waddell is a lovely story whose theme is sibling bonding. Three little owls are worried when they awake to find that their mom isn’t there. The bonding and encouragement between sweet owlets is heartwarming and will give little ones a model of how siblings take care of each other.
- Families, a fun board book published by Starbright Books, would be a perfect to read to very small siblings-to-be. Its simple text and bright photos comparing animal families to human families show that being a member of a family is completely natural. Birds do it, bees do it, and we do it , too.
Now, here’s a genuine two-for-one bargain! Reading to your oldest while you’re expecting your second child is multitasking at its very best! You are simultaneously teaching two little ones about the joys of language, literacy, and bonding through books, while getting some relaxing down time for yourself! Talk about Super Mom!
And, if your child is old enough, he or she can read some of the lines from the story aloud as well, or repeat them after you’ve read them. There is strong evidence that babies can hear and remember voices heard from inside the womb during the last trimester. (Check out this video from Penny Simkin of a little girl who sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” to her sister in utero, and see the baby’s reaction when she hears it for the first time as a newborn!)
What a lovely scene: Your firstborn is enjoying his treasured storytime, all snuggled up with you, the beloved book, and his brother or sister who happens to be residing in your belly for now. Your partner can join in on the all-encompassing storytime bliss too! And as all the research shows, both the grownups and the little ones benefit from this special family time, a sacred time set aside just for bonding with each other through language and story.
So, start reading to your children as soon as you know they’re on the way. And when the next one comes along, storytime will become an expected and comforting routine for the sibling-to-be during this transitional time.
You’ll be reading about how fun, loving, and dynamic families are while being a fun, loving, and dynamic family yourselves. How awesome is that?