When you have your first child, your days are filled with wonder and every milestone is a major event. Each moment with them is a new adventure. When your second, third, or fourth child arrive, responsibility and pressure can become overwhelming. It becomes easy to depend on your oldest child in these pressurized moments. While it’s important for oldest children to understand they are a part of a team and they have a contribution to make to the success of the whole family, too much dependence on them can take away from their own experiences of childhood.
Oldest children are natural leaders and lean toward perfectionism. In fact, 21 of the 23 astronauts to first go into space were first/only born in their families. Firstborns have a tendency to step in and take over responsibility for their siblings on their own. Are you putting too much pressure on your oldest child unknowingly? As parents, it’s important to watch this tendency and encourage them to have their own childhoods.
Celebrate their individuality as well as their title as a big sister/brother.
When your second baby arrives it makes them feel important to help out with things like fetching diapers or entertaining a fussy sibling in the back seat. Make sure you also celebrate them as an individual and not just for being big sister or brother. Instead of saying, “You’re such a great big sister!” say, “You have such a kind and loving heart to help your brother that way!” This way you are celebrating the child and not their role.
Give them special benefits along with the extra responsibility.
Let your child know that being older comes with privileges too. Let them help you make cookies, have a friend over, or go on a special outing. Having a benefits package for being the helper of their younger brother or sister makes it a worthwhile position to hold. And when the eldest is a teenager, automobile privileges are a great reward. They need to also know that each member of the family has a responsibility and a role to play just because family is a team and we are all players on that team. But having special advantages to being the eldest teaches them that being on that team and playing that role is rewarding as well as demanding.
You’re never too big for snuggles.
It can feel like rejection to have your lap displaced by a baby brother or sister. Oldest children need to have time on your lap and special moments with your undivided attention. While you’re feeding your new infant an older child will often use that time to show off or start to make demands of you. They can seem needy or misbehave if they don’t understand that they have not been replaced. You can say something like, “Mommy has to feed Sister right now but when I’m finished I’m going to watch you do that trick.” Or watch them play their video game while you’re rocking the new baby. Have them sit beside you and snuggle them in when the baby falls asleep. Seeing you snuggle someone else and not getting snuggles too can feel like they’re being replaced, especially in the beginning when the newborn arrives.
Oldest children need to have time on your lap and special moments with your undivided attention.
Time with children their own age helps them relate to peers.
Make sure your older child gets to have time with other children in their own age range. This helps them be a kid and enjoy not having to think of anyone else. Time engaged in physical play with other kids who have similar physical capabilities teaches community, self-awareness, and perspective.
Take care of yourself and make sure you don’t get depleted.
When you’re overwhelmed or overtired it’s tempting to rely on your older children to shoulder some of the load. Making sure you are getting enough sleep and taking care of your own personal needs is really important for the whole family. When you are taken care of, you have more mental and physical energy for everyone else. Take an hour to get your nails done, go to the movies with your girlfriends, or send one or all of the kids to Grandma’s house.
What are some creative ways you can celebrate your eldest child and their individuality?