by Jenny Busbey, BSN, RN, IBCLC
Help Siblings Continue to Gain Independence with Grace and Love.
When your family grows and it is time to bring home a new baby, it is important to prepare the older siblings for this transition to help welcome the baby home in a positive way. Preparing older siblings for the baby is an important step to help them adjust to their new family members. We’ve outlined a few helpful tips that we’ve found to support older siblings during this transition.
Before the baby arrives, talk to your older child about what is going to happen and let them know that things will change. This change can be scary for many children so discussing this often is helpful. Explain that there will be a new addition to the family and discuss how this will change things a bit for them. Encourage your child to ask questions and to express their feelings about the change. Be prepared many might not be ready and might feel angry.
Some children do better by expressing their feelings through drawing, reading stories, or playing a game with you. New babies will require a lot of attention, and routines may change, and it is important to prepare siblings for these changes. There will be a crying baby who cannot do anything for themselves. It is important to talk with them about how much older siblings can do and how helpful they will be when they do the things they know how to do once the baby arrives. Reminding them of what wonderful helpers they are by continuing to put on their own shoes, pack their lunch, and brush their teeth in the morning and evening independently. Reinforce how helpful they are to the family.
Involve your older child in the preparation for the new baby.
Take them along to your prenatal visits, let them help pick out baby clothes, and have them help decorate the nursery. The more they learn about these changes and what to expect the more you are able to include them in positive discussions about how the new family will look. One thing to consider is that if both the baby and your older child are upset, you should go to the older child first. Make eye contact, get down on their level, and connect with them. Let them know you hear them, and you see them.
It is important to address them first at these moments, sometimes older siblings feel like they do not matter as much because every time the baby cries, the baby gets attention first. Give the older child your connected attention at these times so they can continue to feel loved and then go to the baby together if they want to help. There are many books available that can help prepare older siblings for a new baby. Reading books about babies and how to be a good sibling can help your child understand what to expect.
Spend quality time together.
Make sure to spend special time with your older child before the baby arrives. Let them know that they are still important and loved. Encourage them to make a card or write a letter to the baby. What a wonderful way to begin their sibling bonding before the baby arrives!
Role-playing can help your child understand what it will be like to have a new baby in the house. You can practice holding and caring for a doll or stuffed animal and talk about how the baby will need lots of love and attention. It is another way to reinforce positivity and show them they are going to be a great older sibling.
Set realistic expectations about the new baby.
Be realistic about what your older child can and cannot do. For example, if they are very young, they may not be able to help with the baby as much as they think they can. A great idea is to buy a doll just for a young child. When mom or dad needs to change the baby, the big sibling can pretend to change their baby too. When a baby is being fed, the older sibling can pretend to feed their baby as well. This helps little ones feel like they belong and are being included in the new routine.
Be patient with them, and with you.
Remember that adjusting to a new baby can be a big change for older siblings. Be patient and understanding and give your child plenty of time to adjust. One-on-one time is key, try to schedule 10-15 minutes each day to have individual time with your older child and engage them with things that are important to them. This will help them to feel loved and connected to you and will help with all of the wonderful changes in their lives and within the family.