Phoebie has been a big sister for more than five months now, and I would like to think that while she loves her baby brother a lot, she is also adjusting to the fact that she now has to share the attention that she was used to getting.
Adjustment has not been easy. There are moments when Phoebie repeatedly calls out to me because she wants to show me something but I am busy attending to the crying baby. In the end, Phoebie either has to wait or doesn’t get to show me what she intended to.
There are days when I feel bad for her, so I make it a point to go and hug her once I settle the baby. Some days, if I know that the baby is just being a little cranky, I leave him for a while and attend to Phoebie instead.
Recently, the baby has been achieving little milestones and Phoebie has noticed how we would praise the baby, clap for him and smile at him. As a result, she started mimicking whatever we praised the baby for. While these things are big achievements for the baby, they are clearly easy tasks for Phoebie.
When Phoebie saw that we applauded her baby brother for rolling onto his belly, she said, “Move Didi (Chinese for younger brother) away please. It’s my turn to roll.” Initially, I didn’t want to make her feel left out, so I moved the baby. She would then roll and look at us, expecting the same kind of praise the baby got.
Phoebie also started to say that she is pretend meimei (Chinese for younger sister). She would tell us that pretend meimei needs this, pretend meimei needs that. While I encourage her to play pretend, some parts of the day are difficult for that. For example, when I have to prepare dinner and Phoebie tells me that pretend meimei needs to be carried.
Just a few days ago, I decided that I needed to explain some things to Phoebie. I wanted her to understand that while we applauded her baby brother for some things, we won’t necessarily have the same reaction if she did the same.
“Phoebie,” I started, “Do you know why Papa and Mama clap for Didi and tell him ‘Good job’ when he rolls on his tummy?”
“Why?” Phoebie asked.
“Because he is a little baby and rolling is something that is difficult for him,” I explained, “So when he manages to do it, we want to encourage him. For you, rolling is easy because you are a big sister, you are a big girl. The things that are difficult for you are different.”
“But Didi is FIVE months old and I am FOUR years old!” She retorted.
It was then I realized something.
Phoebie has been hearing Ben and I tell people that the baby is five months old and that Phoebie is four years old. To the four year old mind, four is a smaller number than five! She didn’t understand what “months old” and “years old” mean. Five is a bigger number than four! So if the FIVE month old baby gets applauded for doing something, surely the FOUR year old girl can get some applause for the same thing.
“Phoebie,” I tried to explain again, “Do you know that five months is shorter than four years? There are 12 months in one year, and you are four years old, which means that you are 48 months old. Didi is only five months, and you are 48 months.”
Phoebie looked thoughtful for a while.
“So you see, the things that are difficult for a five months old baby can be easy for you, the big girl. The things that are difficult for you are different. We clap for you when you wear your own clothes, your own shoes. We clap for you and say ‘Good job’ when you feed yourself.”
To illustrate further, I decided to explain with things that she liked. “Babies only drink milk and cannot eat yummy things like udon, pizza, chocolate or ice cream. But these are things that big sisters can eat. So are you a baby or a big sister?”
Upon hearing that, Phoebie’s face changed. “I am a big sister.”
“Are you a big girl or a little baby?” I asked.
“I am a big girl,” she answered.
After that conversation, she stopped asking me to move her baby brother away for her turn to roll onto her tummy.
At the same time, I made a conscious effort to praise her for things that match the four year old milestones. Whenever she wore her shoes correctly, I would tell her “good job”. Whenever she coloured a picture nicely, I would tell her “well done”. Whenever she packed her toys after she was done playing, I thanked her for helping.
While I celebrate the milestones that my five month old baby achieves, I must constantly make an effort to take notice of the milestones that my four year old girl is achieving too. I don’t want her to think that she has to behave like a baby to get my attention and my praises.