Helping Siblings Love Your New Baby
All of the changes that occur when a new baby is added may bring many challenges, especially if there are older children in the family. If not well-prepared for the new “normal,” your older children may see the new baby as a big interference in their lives, rather than a gift that you are giving to your family. Here are a few ways that you can prepare your older children to love your new baby.
Because becoming an older sibling is probably one of the most challenging things children learn to do, you first need to put yourself in your children’s shoes. You need to tell your children about the baby that is coming before you tell your other relatives and friends; this is news that should come from you, rather than a well-meaning relative or friend. If there are any goals or milestones you’d like your older children to reach before the baby arrives, such as weaning, toilet training, or starting preschool, make sure this happens well before your baby will arrive, so that the older children will feel a sense of mastery, rather than a sense of being replaced. Be realistic with them, so that they know that in the early days you will be tired and the baby will keep you very busy. They should also know that the baby will not be a playmate, at least not at first; the baby will mostly sleep, eat, need diaper changes, and cry.
Talk to your children about what it was like in the house when they were the new babies and share pictures and birth stories. Tell them about how excited everyone was about holding them and how they were loved so much. You should find out about sibling classes and tours of the planned birth place. You can often take your children with you to prenatal visits and let them meet your doctor or midwife, and listen to the baby’s heartbeat. At home, you can let them practice with a doll and show them how to support the head and touch the “baby” gently. Let them talk about their feelings about having a new baby in the house.
Let them participate in the preparations for the baby in whatever way they wish, from selecting the baby’s “going home” outfit to actually being present at the birth. Having older siblings present at a birth has eased the transition for many families, but you will be the best judge of whether that is right for your children. If you do choose to have your older children present, make sure you prepare them for the sights, smells, and sounds of labor and birth, and have a support person there specifically for the children, so that their needs will be met, and not distract you and your partner.
After the baby’s arrival, there’s more to consider. Encourage your relatives and friends to show attention to your older children and not just the baby. It’s also important to spend some individual time with each child every day. It need not be long periods of time, but your older children need to know you still love your first babies. You can let your children and the baby exchange gifts, and let the children help with the baby’s care, as long as you are nearby. Reassure your children of the benefits of being an older child.
Preparing your older children to be big brothers and big sisters is a gift, because this will provide the foundation for their future relationships. You’ll be glad you helped them learn to love your family’s new baby.