Bringing a new baby home is one of the most exciting times for parents and grandparents. 9 months of planning and anticipation finally pays off when the new addition arrives safe and sound. However, there may be one person who isn’t quite sure what all the fuss is about and what having a new child in the family is going to mean for them. The sibling.
A new brother or sister may be thrilling to most of the family members, but a new baby who is getting all the attention can seem overwhelming to the first child, especially for very young siblings. Their very sense of security can feel threatened, leaving them feeling angry and acting out. So, before the little bundle of joy arrives, it’s a good idea to prepare the older child for big changes ahead.
You can do that as early as when mom starts showing. Introduce the idea that mommy is pregnant. Being pregnant means that mom & dad are going to have another child, and that means a little brother or sister is going to be part of the family.
One good tip is to have a calendar on hand and circle the date when the baby is due. Have the older child start marking the days as they go by.
If you have a very young child you can say “ the baby will arrive in the summer, when the weather gets hot.” Or “in the fall, when all the leaves start to fall.” Give them something they can identify with if they are too young to understand dates.
Once that’s established, ask them if they have any questions about having a little brother or sister. Children may be so surprised that they don’t have anything to ask right away. But as time goes on, they will have plenty of questions. Give answers that are age appropriate in a language that is easy to understand. Keep your answers simple but inclusive of how a new baby may affect their life. An example might be “the baby will cry and may wake you up at night for a while. That’s normal behavior for a new baby. We’ll all be tired for a little while, but it will get better. ”
You can also bring out pictures or videos of when they were babies. Children love to hear stories about when they were little. Explain how much you loved them then and now. This little exercise in closeness can also help them understand the importance of babies and what a baby can bring to the family.
As the due date gets closer, try and keep everything as routine as possible. Avoid big transitions such as potty training, changing to a big girl or boy bed, getting rid of the pacifier or binky or anything that may separate the older sibling from the family. If the sibling must undergo some of these changes, start as early as possible so that they don’t make a negative association between these changes and the baby.
One unavoidable change that might occur is that mom will be away for a few days when the baby is born. Prepare your child for your absence during the birth of the new baby (how long you will be gone, where your child will stay). If your child is going to stay with someone else for a few days, do a couple of practice stay-overs so they will see that you will come back and bring them home.
For toddlers, you might also consider role-playing with dolls. Let them use the doll to ask questions or talk about their fears or excitement about the baby.
Once the baby is born allow the sibling to come to the hospital and see the baby and that mom is ok. A cute tip is to have a gift from the new baby for the sibling.
Once baby is home, suppress any negative comparisons such as “ you cried a lot more’, or ‘he or she is a lot calmer than you were.”
Other things to keep in mind are:
- Don’t be alarmed if siblings don’t express an interest in the new baby. Sibling relationships have a lifetime to develop.
- Accept that some regression may occur; this is normal. Baby your big-boy/girl for a while, if that’s what he/she seems to need.
- Remind visitors to pay attention to your older kids and monitor gift-giving. It can be upsetting for sibling to see all of the presents that the newborn receives, especially when people don’t bring something for them.
- Try not to blame the baby for your new limitations (“Mommy can’t play with you now because I have to feed the baby,” or “Mommy needs to change the baby, so you need to read to yourself.”). Blaming new babies for decreased time spent with you can breed sibling resentment. Instead, involve siblings in child-care as helpers.
- Create opportunities for older siblings to be participants and not competitors (e.g., getting a diaper ready, reading the baby a story, pushing the carriage).
- Remind siblings of the things they can do because they are older (e.g., eating food, playing with toys, going to the playground).
- Remember to give siblings private time with you and reinforce the idea that many of the things they are able to help out with (e.g., errand running, meal preparation, etc.), are because of their advanced abilities.
While you are busy with a new baby, developmental changes are still going on with your older child. Kids that are two or under may have difficulty with a new addition because they still have strong needs as well. Stress in the family can make the sibling’s adjustment more difficult. So remember to stay calm when you’re with the children.
One more thing to be aware of is how rough a sibling may be with a new baby. They really don’t understand how delicate the baby is and have to learn what kind of playing or interaction is too rough. They may also hug a little to hard. You’ll have to guide them in the correct gentle behaviors. Focus on your older child’s positive behaviors towards the new baby such as “ I like how you gently kiss your little brother or sister.”
Having a new baby in the family is difficult, but don’t despair. The first few months will be an adjustment for everyone. But before you know it, the new baby will feel like he or she has always been a part of the family.
Source: Bronwyn Charlton, PhD, http://www.everydayhealth.com/kids-health/prepping-your-child-for-a-new-sibling.aspx
- Preparing for a New Sibling