You lived through the boot-camp rigors of your first baby and are brave enough to give it another go. Congratulations crazy people! As exciting as this is for you and your partner, your beloved baby my not be as ecstatic about becoming a sibling. There is a good chance your first child has feelings ranging from confusion to resistance to the idea. The best time to start preparing for the arrival of baby is BEFORE the baby comes. But don’t worry if you’ve already brought baby home from the hospital, this post includes suggestions for positive sibling adjustment that can be used before, during, and after the new baby arrives.
This post is from Kellie Erickson who is graciously helping out because my entire family has a vicious stomach bug and I’m busy spending some quality time in the bathroom. Kellie has been working with families in Vermont for years and is deservedly loved by them all. Prior to her work with families and babies she was a social worker and taught the Nurturing Parent Program.
Before Your New Baby Arrives
- Teach your child patience and how to wait for desired activities/results.
- Encourage independence.
- Carry him/her less. Teach safe behavior when crossing street, in grocery cart, in car etc.
- Do not do anything for your child that he is capable of doing himself/herself (step stools are helpful).
- Share child care with your partner well before your 2nd child is born so there is not an expectation that one parent is exclusive nurturer.
- Make big changes (bed, potty) well before baby so there is pride in growing up instead of the feeling of being “pushed out”.
- You are in charge. Your child is not. Establish clear boundaries.
- Playgroups, preschools, play dates will help him/her get used to being around other kids.
- Have an established individual “quiet time” so he gets comfortable being with himself, parents practice going out (and coming back), “I will be back” etc. so he gets used to the idea that there are demands on your time.
- Remember that children are adaptable. They will not suffer scars. “This is a new kind of family life.”
- Refer to the new baby as “our baby”.
When You Give Birth
- Create some transitional objects for her/him while you are away: tape bedtime stories or familiar songs, ask her to take care of something (of yours) for you while you are away, bake a birthday cake together, put it in the freezer and have a little party when you come home from hospital.
- Hide a surprise around house and call him from hospital and tell him where to find it.
- Keep child’s routine as regular as possible.
- Give him a job such as calling people to tell them about the birth.
- Bring a photo of him to the hospital so he sees it when he visits.
- Do not allow other guests when child visits you for the first time and greet your child without the baby in your arms the first time (he is really more interested in seeing you).
- If you chose to give a gift to your older child, the gift should reflect that he is bigger and older-which is a good thing.
Siblings at Home
- Have someone else (not mom) carry baby into the house.
- Try to have 24 hours without visitors so the 4 of you can snuggle together (in bed?) and begin to establish “the new kind of family”.
- No matter the preparation, there will be conflicting emotion.
- Do not tell child of any age how she will feel about the baby. It is a set up for conflict to say,”oh you don’t really feel that way about your sister”.
- All his feelings are OK and should be validated as such “Sometimes you miss being the only one”. AND set limits. The feelings are OK but certain behaviors are not! “you don’t have to like the baby, but you cannot hit the baby” (an older sibling hitting a baby is NOT a predictor of their future relationship).
- Older child should not be made to feel guilty for feeling jealous. “Sometimes it is hard to be the older brother”.
- Never apologize for baby’s existence or the change in family.
- Communicate in many ways that he is not replaceable. “you are my favorite 3-year-old in the whole world” “ Lindsay is so lucky to have you as a big sister”. “Look how she smiles when you talk, sing to her.”
- Talk to the baby about her older sibling when the older child can “overhear.”
- As your child learns to share you, respond neutrally when possible instead of the baby being the source of his frustration. “My hands are busy right now.” -or- “My hands are free now patient girl!”
- When an activity with your older child is interrupted, clarify that it is temporary “I must feed Max right now but I will be back to finish building towers with you.”
- Occasionally “ask” the baby to wait for you to finish something with your older child.
- Do not deprive the older child of attention but do not go overboard either. Don’t pile on the gifts/treats associated with birth. This sends a guilt-laden message and child feels there must be a reason to feel uncomfortable about this. He will act out on those feelings!
- Give child more grown up privileges.
- Schedule one-on-one with older child–not because of new sibling but because you enjoy him and want to spend time with him.
- Nursing/feeding tends to be the most jealous time: Keep a basket of toys, snacks, books, stories on tape, music , (simple) drawing supplies etc at your nursing “station”.
- Invite him to sit next to you. Cuddle. Have him help you. Make up stores together. Have him “read” to you and the baby while you nurse.
- Use baby’s natural reflexes to show him how to get “finger hugs” from the baby (newborn will clench her hand around his finger) instead of big overzealous bear hugs of a toddler.
- Pets and “loveys” can be helpful.
- Imaginary playmates often emerge at this time.
- It is best to allow the child to take the lead. Let the sibling relationship develop at it’s own pace. Do not try to control the relationship.
- Record their early interactions! Have fun!
There are many great books to introduce the idea of a sibling to your older child.
THE BERENSTAIN BEARS’ NEW BABY
By Stan & Jan Berenstain
THE NEW BABY AT YOUR HOUSE
By Joanna Cole
THE TROUBLE WITH BABIES
By Angie and Chris Sage