Becoming a parent of more than one child produces important change in your role as caregiver, the experiences of family members, and how the family functions as group. In the midst of all this change, be patient with yourself and the process. For example, don’t put too much weight on your older children’s initial reactions to the baby, whether positive or negative. Expect that there will be changes in your children’s behavior—some acting out, some tears, but also some really wonderful and special moments. In navigating family change, some families create new rituals and traditions, such as having a birthday cake on the baby’s “0” birthday. Families might also be intentional about maintaining certain routines, like family dinners, to help navigate family change.
To tell a child about an impending sibling, consider your own comfort level and your child’s maturity level. Preschoolers, for example, may not understand concepts of time, so it might not mean much if you say that the baby will arrive in a few months. It may be more useful to explain that the baby will arrive in a particular season, such as winter or when it’s cold outside.
How much detail should you provide? Let your child’s questions be your guide. For example, a 4-year-old child may ask: “Where do babies come from?” Despite how it sounds, the child isn’t asking you to explain sex but probably wants to know where, literally, they come from. It may be enough to explain: “The baby comes from the uterus, which is inside the mother’s belly.” A child who wants to know more will ask.
If your child shows more interest in the baby, you can encourage that by:
- going through your child’s baby pictures
- reading books about childbirth (make sure they’re age-appropriate)
- visiting friends who have infants
- packing a bag for the hospital
- thinking of potential baby names
- going to the doctor to hear the baby’s heartbeat
Also look into sibling birth classes, which many hospitals offer to provide orientation for soon-to-be brothers and sisters. These classes can include lessons on how to hold a baby, explanations of how a baby is born, and opportunities for kids to discuss their feelings about having a new brother or sister.
Planning for Childbirth
As your due date draws near, make arrangements for older kids for the time when you’re in the hospital. Discuss these plans so kids know what to expect when the day arrives.
Consider letting your child visit you in the hospital as soon as possible after the baby is born, ideally when no other visitors are around — this helps reinforce the birth as an intimate family event.
Try to keep routines as regular as possible in the days and weeks around the baby’s arrival. If you plan to make any room shifts to accommodate the baby, do it a few weeks before your due date.
If your child is approaching a major milestone, like potty training or moving from a crib to a bed, try to make those changes well before your due date or put them off until after the baby has been home for a while.
Bringing the New Baby Home
Once the baby is home, you can help your other kids adjust to the changes. Include them as much as possible in the daily activities involving the baby so that they don’t feel left out.
Many kids want to help take care of a new baby. Though that “help” may mean that each task takes longer, it can give an older child a chance to interact with the baby in a positive way. Depending on their age, a big brother or sister may want to entertain the baby during a diaper change, help push the carriage, talk to the baby, or help dress, bathe, or burp the baby.
If your child expresses no interest in the baby, don’t be alarmed and don’t force it. It can take time.
Some occasions, like breastfeeding, excludes older kids. For these times, try to have toys on hand so that you can feed the baby without being interrupted or worrying about an older child feeling left out.
Take advantage of chances for one-on-one time with older kids. Spend time together while the baby is sleeping and, if possible, set aside time each day for older kids to get one parent’s undivided attention. Knowing that there’s special time just for them may help ease any resentment or anger about the new baby.
Also remind relatives and friends that your older child might want to talk about something other than the new baby. If relatives or friends ask how they can help, suggest a fun activity or something special for the older child.
Continue to send your older child to childcare or to school, if you’re able. It’s normal to feel guilty about sending your older child away since now you’re home with the new baby (and if you’re home, you might feel that everyone should be). But keeping normal routines is helpful for siblings. And this time can give you precious one-on-one time with the baby that you might not otherwise have. When your older child comes home from childcare or school, plan for some quality family time.
Dealing With Feelings
With all of the changes that a new baby can bring, older children might struggle with the adjustment.
Encourage older children to share their feelings about the new baby. If children struggle to express those feelings, don’t be surprised if they test limits or revert to speaking in baby talk.
If older children act out, don’t bend the rules, but seek to understand the feelings behind the behavior. Acting out could be a sign that your children need more one-on-one time with you, but make it clear that although their feelings are important, they need to express those feelings in appropriate ways. In general, and when a new baby enters a family, child development is optimized when parents maintain high levels of warmth and control (providing structure, rules, boundaries, and realistic expectations).
Source: We appreciate the post from the Mayo Center on Preparing your Older Child for a Sibling which shared much of this great content.
Resources and Books for Children:
A post by Kim Conte – 5 Tips Moms Can Depend on for Introducing Their Child to the New Baby
See our booklist for parents and children to read about the new addition to the family