by Claire C. McKiernan
WBWC patients (much like the staff) are a select group of strong, caring, nurturing, independent-minded women. So, if you are expecting another child, I’m going to assume you know the value of preparing an older sibling for a new baby. Here are some tips and resources on how to go about this task.
1) Talk, talk, talk. No matter how young the soon-to-be older sibling is, talk to your child about the new baby long before the big day. Insert short conversations casually, not in a lecture. Give your child time to absorb snippets of information.
Talking can include your expectations of what the baby will be like, pointing out what will be different in the house (baby furniture, baby gates, etc.) and with the family dynamics (such as relatives stopping by to help out). If you are already overwhelmed by these changes, your child will know it, so for your sake and his, put a positive spin on things.
Just as important, point out what will be the same. Kids and adults alike fear change, so make sure he knows how many things will remain unchanged, such as mealtimes, bedtimes, and story time.
Talk to your child about his birth and what he was like as a baby. Once the baby arrives, this can help him connect with the baby (“Did I do that when I was little, too?”) If you have siblings, share your own happy memories.
Point out how he can do certain things, but a baby can’t. “You are using your fork so nicely. A newborn isn’t even allowed to hold a fork!” Give him a sense of pride in being his age, not to mention being more competent than a baby.
2) Listen, listen, listen. When your child is talking about the baby, either with you or during the course of her play, notice what she already understands about a baby, any misinformation, and especially her fears and concerns. Ask questions and don’t be afraid to put into words what you think is worrying her. This can be difficult because you may be afraid that if you are wrong, you have just introduced a new fear. However, you know your child best, so follow your instincts, and don’t worry. Reassuring words are never wasted.
3) Read children’s books about pregnancy and welcoming a new baby into the family. See “resources” below.
4) Respect your child’s need to sort through feelings. One day your child may be eager to have a new sibling, the next day, not so much. From excitement and love to hate and even apathy, it’s normal. Tell him so. Acknowledge his feelings and later on, when you have a quiet moment, help him verbalize why he feels the way he does.
5) Role play. When I was expecting my fourth child, I played a game with my children where they each got to be a newborn. I swaddled one in a blanket on the living room floor and the others would pretend it was the new baby. Each child loved being the baby and making baby sounds and being cooed over. But we also talked about the baby not being able to sit up, crawl away, or say when she was feeling overwhelmed. This gave the “baby” a sense of the helplessness of a newborn.
We also talked about looking at the baby from 12-18 inches away so the baby could see us better. They tried this on the “baby”, too. Did this stop my kids from sticking their faces right up to the real baby later on? Of course not, but it helped, served as a reminder, and gave them a sense of empathy. Plus, they still enjoyed playing the game after the birth!
6) Suggest ways in which your child can help with the new baby. A very young sibling can “help” by sitting and listening to a story while Mommy nurses. Toddlers can wipe the baby’s chin or hold a clean diaper while baby is being changed. Slightly older kids can pick out clean outfits and feed the baby once she is old enough.
7) Reassure your child he is unique, loved, needed, and valued. Give specifics; they hold more weight and are more memorable.
8) Have a “Do” list —things that your child can do with her younger sibling for fun: sing, read, play show and tell, etc. An actual written list (with words or pictures) that you and your child come up with together and stick to the fridge can be a fun and easy project.
9) Let him know he is a teacher to the baby and the more he talks to the baby and models good behavior, the more the baby learns, even though the baby can’t speak yet.
10) Understand your child will still need time with just you. Not an easy task, but even 5-10 minutes here and there lets her know you enjoy the time together. It also serves as proof when you tell her she is valued.
11) Bring your child to a midwife appointment to hear the baby’s heartbeat. My kids loved this and were often allowed to help in some way.
12) Have a surprise gift ready for each older sibling for the day the baby arrives. Likewise, I also had each child pick a gift out in advance to give the baby.
1) Have a list of Don’ts. (Yes! I love irony!) That way lies resentment.
2) Shame your child (directly or indirectly) if he doesn’t immediately take to the new little cherub in your life. Allow him space and time.
3) Discourage her from having bad feelings. If she knows her feelings won’t be denied, she might surprise you with her reasons, which then gives you a chance to work them out together.
4) Weigh your child down with the responsibility that he MUST help with the baby. In other words, don’t force the #6 suggestion above.
5) Blame the baby for your being too tired, uncomfortable, or busy to do something with your older child. State that you are tired and need a rest first (not: “the baby is making me too tired”), or make other fun suggestions.
6) Suggest your child weed through her old toys for things she no longer needs and could be handed down (or worse, do it yourself). If she does this of her own accord, fantastic.
7) Tell him he has to be a big boy now and that he is no longer a baby. Expect days when he takes pride in being a big boy and days when he wants and needs to be a baby again. He is testing your love; rise to the challenge.
8) Move your child out of the nursery at the last minute to give it to the baby. Relate a move to a new room to being a big kid (not to the baby) well in advance of the birth. Allow her to make some decisions on her new room. If the room is going to be shared, help your child create her own space within the room.
9) Feel guilty or apologize for not being able to spend as much time with your child (unless you broke a promise, but avoid that, too). Yeah, sometimes there’s guilt, but families with multiple children have been around since the dawn of time and while there is change, adjustment, and, at times, exhaustion, there’s more than enough love, wonder, and learning to make it all worthwhile.
For the sake of symmetry (which I dearly love), I was going to come up with 12 “don’ts”. However, you probably know most of the don’ts. Besides, don’t you feel better reading something that empowers you with more DO’s than DON’Ts?
Finally, there are loads of books out there for both parents and kids alike on welcoming a new baby into the family. I’m reluctant to recommend anything I haven’t read, so here is what my kids enjoyed:
My New Baby illustrated by Annie Kubler. This is a sweet wordless picture book that shows an older sibling interacting with the new baby (complete with Mommy discreetly breastfeeding). We gave this to our 16-month-old son when he became a big brother. Three years later he loaned it to his little brother.
My Mommy’s Midwife by Trish Payne and Hayley Holland. 2-5 years.
Baby on the Way by Martha and William Sears, and Christie Watts Kelly (This is much more comprehensive and I edited it accordingly for each child’s comprehension level.) 4-8 years.
The New Baby by Mercer Mayer. 3 years and up.
The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby by Stan Berenstain. 4 years and up.