How do you prepare siblings to become a big brother or sister?
Whether you’re going to have your second or even fourth child, it’s important to prepare the older kid(s) for the changes that are coming to the household. Siblings can feel a lot of emotions around the birth of a new baby brother or sister, and those emotions aren’t always positive!
Change isn’t a bad thing but for a lot of people, and little kids in particular, it’s not easy. Going from being the only child to the older sibling, or going from being the baby of the family to the middle spot, is a BIG deal from their perspectives. It’s important to acknowledge those feelings and then focus on the positives of their new lives as big brother or sister.
When the test comes up positive
Planned or unplanned, a new pregnancy is a big deal in any home. Family is excited and congratulations are in order! That can leave an older sibling feeling left out, even cast out, as if their place in the family hierarchy isn’t at all secure.
This is a time for reassurance and lots of age appropriate discussion about the changes the family and the household will be going through.
•Younger children don’t really understand what’s about to happen but they do understand that the world as they know it will shift. Not in a long term sense, but in the immediate. For example, your older child might be worried because they are told that mommy, who is normally home every single day, will be going away and coming back with a baby. The news that a sibling is coming is less frightening than the idea of mommy going away!
•It’s natural for an older sibling not to warm to the idea of a baby brother or sister right away. You might even find that they’re angry about it. This comes from a place of fear. You need to reassure them of their place in your heart and the fact that this will never change.
•It’s important to acknowledge those feelings, good or bad, but not to encourage them. So, while a child is entitled to feel angry that they will no longer be the center of attention (and they may have already witnessed this in families of their friends), they’re not entitled to damage the nursery or in other ways negatively express themselves.
•Be honest, insofar as their age permits, about what mommy is going through and what’s going to happen. It’s okay to describe what a baby looks like, what a baby does all day, how mommy feeds baby, how mommy is going to need to spend a lot of time with baby etc… You don’t need to get graphic about the birth process with a little one though!
•Do you have pictures of your child when they were a baby handy? Dig them out! They’ll have a better understanding of who is arriving on the day.
•If they’re good helpers, they can be made to feel a sense of responsibility towards their yet unborn sibling by helping set up the nursery or hanging up baby clothes in the closet. But don’t force it: if they don’t want to help, forcing them will only increase their resentment
•Spend extra time with your older child(ren) now because, once baby arrives and at least for a little while, time will be at a premium. If you have a postpartum doula that you’re going to be working with, discuss with them the need to schedule some time with the older kids, while she takes care of baby, after you come home from the hospital.
When your water breaks
The key at this stage is to be sure that you have a solid plan in place for when you are about to deliver, including where the older children will go, or who will come and take care of them. Have a plan B, in case plan A falls through at the last minute. The stress of childbirth is quite enough without worrying about your other kids and who is going to feed them dinner!
If there is a close member of the family who can be there with them, make sure you communicate any issues of jealousy or anger that you’ve been dealing with so that they’re prepared to answer questions in a way that you’re comfortable with.
When you’re coming home from the hospital
Emotions are running high at this stage, for everyone, so try and keep in mind that your older child might not react as you hoped, when they meet baby for the first time. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that they too are children.
It’s important to try and find a way to spend time with the older kids. If you have a postpartum doula helping you, they can certainly take over with baby for a while so you can take the older ones for ice cream, or something special that you did together in the past. If exhaustion or complications are still making an outing impossible, how about a movie night with mom? Popcorn and snuggles can do wonders for a kid who is feeling like they’re not getting the attention they used to!
Delegating to a relative during the birth is fine, but at this stage, it would only reinforce a child’s feeling of rejection, if in fact they’re feeling like that, so be aware of their emotions. They might not always be able to communicate them clearly but you won’t be in any doubt if they’re not happy about the situation!
Finally, avoid blaming the baby for everything that is not going the way the older child would want. That just serves to encourage a sibling to feel that the changes are the baby’s ‘fault’; resentment and jealousy will follow. Example? Avoid saying a flat “No” to a round of coloring and instead, try statements like: “I can’t right now because baby is eating but how about in ten minutes? Meanwhile, why don’t you go and get your coloring books and crayons and set up at the table. I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
If you’re having a baby for the first time, or this is your third go on that merry-go-round, having a postpartum doula can make things a lot smoother for you, your baby and your entire family. Check out more about the services that we offer and if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!