"Well, my baby was stuck a bit. So then we had to PUSH and PUSH and PUSH! And FINALLY our baby got borned!”
Julie was three years old. Her brow was furled and her pigtails bounced enthusiastically as she was telling me about her baby brother’s delivery. I was surprised to hear that she hadn’t actually been present at the birth. Her mother assured me that Julie had been fast asleep during Chase’s birth - her daughter was just a very avid eavesdropper who had heard her mother's birth story, and included herself in the excitement.
Your little ones are likely no different. They hear the words that we speak, and it shapes our children’s developing understanding of how the world works. This is true for all circumstances, and is no less important when a new baby is welcomed into a family.
My baby, Julie had said. The little girl leaned over, as I admired newborn Chase, and she played the part of the most highly commissioned used car salesman, pointing out all the sellable features of his being.
“Look at his ears! Mommy says they’re just like mine. And his chin. Isn’t it the cutest?” Julie squinched up her own chin, sighed, and then just grinned after that. As proud and content as could be.
Little big-sister Julie was using language that will likely help to disarm much of the natural competitive edge, the predisposition to ‘sibling rivalry’, that often develops over time.
Competition defines our human nature from the first moments of birth. Our existence depends on the presence of a healthy competitive spirit. In fact, you are the product of one very determined and most tenacious sperm cell that managed to beat out millions of others, winning the race to join up with the most alluring of ovums, to begin the process that resulted in one unique new creature – YOU.
Language is powerful. The language that you choose will have an affect on the relationships of everyone around your new baby. Considering the words that you use around your new baby will impact how your child will get along in this world.
Children are innately curious by nature so it will be very helpful to older siblings to explain pregnancy and child development at a simple and age-appropriate level, using language that helps to reassure and connect the older child to the baby. There are many books and videos available that address these topics, but your words, as the caregiver of your child, will have the most lifelong impact.
Notice the difference that language can make in this list of common phrases, and their alternatives:
Mommy is going to have a new baby.
You are going to have a new baby brother or sister.
Mommy is tired because of the new baby growing in her tummy.
Mommy is tired because our new baby is growing in mommy’s tummy.
This baby is kicking like crazy.
Your baby is dancing in mommy's tummy.
I'm going into labour.
The new baby is ready to be born and now mommy and the baby have to work to make that happen.
Mommy had a baby! (or) Mommy had the baby!
Our new baby is here!
Please go get me a diaper for the baby.
Your baby needs a new diaper. Can you help her?
The baby is sleeping. Be quiet.
Your baby is sleeping. Let’s be quiet.
The baby is being so cute. Look at him smile.
Your baby is so cute. He’s smiling at you!
Not now. Mommy has to feed the baby.
Our baby needs to eat right now. Mommy will play with you as soon as baby’s tummy is full. Shall we sing our baby a song while he eats?
The baby is starting to roll over.
You are helping to teach our baby so many new things! Look at her roll over.
The baby is growing so fast.
Remember when your baby was so small? You were once this small too! You are both growing so fast!
The baby is crawling.
Our baby is always watching you and learning from you. Now he is crawling! You must be so proud!
Listen to the baby giggle.
Our baby is so silly! Listen to him making us laugh!
Pay attention to the language that you use around your new baby, and their older siblings. Using cooperative language that connects your baby to the people around her will set in practice patterns of relationship and belonging that will last a lifetime.
- author Jen VanderBeek is the mother of 5 grown children, who still like to hang out with each other. She is also Nana to 7 grandchildren, who cherish each other as cousins.
Jen is a freelance writer in Surrey, BC, and we'll be hearing a lot more from her as soon as she can retire from her day-job as a school librarian.
Feel free to comment and leave a note or question for her!