Without a doubt in my mind, my firstborn, Case, was the most difficult to parent of all four of my kids. Perhaps because I was a first time parent, perhaps because he was a firstborn, perhaps because my husband and I are both firstborns, perhaps all of the above. Whatever the reason, here are some things firstborns need from their parents that I wish I had known way back when………
An Agenda ~ Because firstborns are well organized and planners, it helps if they have specific information about what is expected of them. For example, just like in school teachers give assignments, deadlines and projects all with due dates, firstborns need a heads up on what is expected of them at home. So when it comes to parenting, something like a chore chart with explicit directions on what to do and when and what the result will be is a great idea. This also gives firstborns an opportunity to meet goals and experience the success they so need to feel like they’ve mastered a small part of their world.
A family calendar is also a good idea, not only for parents, but firstborns like to know what is going on with everyone in the family and how it affects them. *Remember: Firstborns are planners and don’t like surprises. They like structure and to stay organized in their head as well as in their homes!
Patient Parents ~ I am talking to myself here. I feel like in the 22 years that I have been a parent, I have been in a hurry. Hurry and go to sleep, hurry and get ready, hurry out the door, hurry up and eat, hurry in the car. Good grief… no wonder I’m such a big fan of napping in the afternoon!
Firstborns are driven. (I am a firstborn). Everything they do has purpose and intent. It can be a lot for a parent, especially when the second child, third child and so forth come along. Give your firstborn and yourself a break. Some time to just relax without the pressure to go, go, go. Be patient and listen to your firstborn. They are assertive and like to talk. Sometimes their talking is argumentative and I’m not saying that parents should tolerate any disrespect but sometimes, firstborns are not always misbehaving when they are trying to negotiate with mom and dad. Let your no be no but don’t be in a hurry to say no either.
Honesty ~ You know the old saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”, well nothing could be more true for the firstborn. By the first year, the firstborn child has observed the parents enough to start trying to be like them. After all, the parent is the main role model in their life. But once they realize that to live up to the standard of an adult is impossible, their perfectionist tendencies become an obstacle.
If parents can begin to understand how much their firstborn is desperately trying to be like them, they can be honest by talking and admitting their faults. BAM! Simple huh? Not so much, especially if one or both parents are firstborns themselves. By taking the time to admit their imperfections and be honest about the mistakes they have made, it allows their firstborn to understand that they don’t need to live up to such an impractical role model.
Preparation for the Arrival of a Sibling ~ I can honestly say, I have no idea how or even if we prepared Case for the arrival of his baby brother, Calvin. We talked about it, sure. He saw my huge belly and heard me hacking into the toilet dozens of times. But did he really know what was about to happen? I doubt it and it comes to a shock to most firstborns when they realize they are no longer the center of attention. Dr. Leman emphasizes that when a second child arrives into the family, the firstborn often wonders if it is because they weren’t good enough. Hence, that infamous, firstborn, pressure to measure up. That is why it is so important to prepare the firstborn for their sibling’s arrival.
There are several ways this can be done. Let them be involved in the parenting. If your first born is is a toddler then surely there will be limits on how much physical interaction they will have with their new sibling but getting them involved in the things you need to do for the new baby is a great way to remind them that they are just as important as the new arrival.
Another way parents can make their firstborn still feel important is to talk to them about what they can do vs. what the baby can do. The first born will probably be able to walk, throw a ball, play with toys…. all things a baby can’t do. This reminds them that they are still special and unique in their parents eyes.
Remember, firstborns will be working very hard to gain some of the attention that has been lost to their new sibling so don’t be surprised if they act sillier than usual or become a bit more demanding of your attention. Temper tantrums and rude behavior is normal just not acceptable, so some alone time might be in order until you have the time to sit down and talk to them about what is going on.
Don’t be a Nit Pick ~ No child is perfect and the same goes for parents. It’s easy to be positive and still have that critical eye that points out even the tiniest mistake. Don’t Do It! Again, I am speaking to myself here.
For example, when you’re child does the dishes, don’t check to see how well they did or if they put everything away in the right place. Or, if you’re like me, rearrange the dishes in the dishwasher after they have loaded it. Let them do the job to the best of their ability and call it a day. The goal is to forgive them for their mistakes not judge them in the name of “helping them do better.” Firstborns need encouragement for their effort more than a nudge to improve.
There is a big difference between teaching excellence and perfectionism. “The key is to be satisfied with a less than perfect job.” If the firstborn thinks they have to do a perfect job or mom or dad won’t approve, they will quickly become the discouraged perfectionist that stops trying for fear of failure.
Here are a few more tips for parenting the firstborn:
- Don’t give more responsibility to the firstborn just because they are the oldest. Divide chores and responsibilities around the house in a way that makes things evenly distributed. This alleviates resentment and pressure that the firstborn might feel for being the oldest.
- Give the firstborn extra privileges according to the new responsibilities they will have.
- Spend time alone with your firstborn.
- Don’t “fix” everything they do. If they make their bed but it’s still a little messy, so what? If they make a good effort to clean their room but there are still a few things left on the floor, leave it. Who cares? Unless you are trying to sell your house, the message parents send when they go in and “improve” upon what their firstborn already did says that they are not quite good enough or measuring up.
- Give them extra hugs and kisses. When a new baby comes along, it is easy to focus physical affection on a sweet cherubic face. Just don’t forget about your firstborn. Cuddling, hugging, kisses, holding hands, rubbing their head or cheek, are not just for infants. My 22 year old firstborn still needs hugs and back rubs and needs to know that he is just as important to me as his siblings.
What sort of things did you do to prepare your firstborn for their sibling? Are you or your spouse a firstborn? Did that make it harder or easier for you to parent any of your kids in any birth order? Do you see your kids in any of the birth order scenarios I’ve mentioned?
Let’s get the conversation going with some comments on birth order. Where you fit in and where you see your kids. And please feel free to like and share on Social Media.