As soon as you see the second little line on that pregnancy test, a million thoughts race through your mind. One of the most prominent questions that may arise is, “How will [older brother/sister] react to this new baby?!” The uncertainty behind this question can cloud the excitement of a new pregnancy. Will they be jealous? Will they be sad? Will you have enough time for them while you care for the new baby? It can be very worrisome because, unfortunately, it is not only the parent’s life that gets turned upside down when a new baby enters the family. The good news? There are many steps that you can take steps to make the transition easier on an older sibling. I’ve detailed ways to prepare kids for a new baby below:
Before the new baby arrives:
-Talk with them consistently about the baby
The best way for your older child to understand that you really do have a tiny human growing inside of you is to try to explain it in words that they can understand. Then, continue to talk about the new baby until they believe you! This may be a good time to show them pictures of your belly when you were pregnant with them and let them see their own baby pictures. Being open and honest with them will also help explain why your belly is getting bigger and why you may not be able to participate in some activities that they are used to. Show your excitement, and they will get excited, too! However, make sure that you also talk about things other than the new baby as well.
-Allow them to help in preparations
If your child is interested, give them the opportunity to help with different aspects of preparation for the new baby. Make sure to keep it age appropriate and fun. Can they put some paint on the walls in the nursery? Can they help hang up clothes? Choose baby items at the store? Stock supplies on the changing table?
-Give them opportunities to practice
When I was preparing our two-year-old twins for the arrival of our triplets, the best thing we ever did was buy them baby dolls to practice caring for. With the dolls we were able to practice gentle touches and kisses, and they even started learning to bottle feed. This has definitely com in handy when I could use an extra hand to feed the triplets! (This trick does NOT only apply to girls!) If available, take this time to expose your older child to other (real) babies, too! Let your child see what babies are really like up close and personal. This is a great time to explain things like dirty diapers, spit up, and the things that babies CANNOT do (like eat solid foods, sit up, walk, etc.)
-Soak up this time with them
In the midst of new baby preparations, remember that these are the last fleeting moments of your “normal” life. It is so easy to get caught up in all of the things that you have to do before baby comes. After the baby gets here, all of your lives will undoubtedly change. So put down the to-do list for a while, Mama. It will all still be there after you spend some quality time with your older “baby”.
After the new baby arrives:
Do not force them to be near, hold, or kiss the new baby. They will do so in their own time. Remember they are used to being your baby, and it is normal to have a bit of jealousy or confusion. It may take a while for your older child to open up to the new baby, and that is NORMAL and okay. Whether it takes a few hours, days, or weeks for them to come to terms with your new addition, you can rest assured that they will become lifelong friends.
While you are still in the hospital, technology is a great way for your older children to see the baby before they get to meet face to face or until you get to come home with them. Video “chatting” with the triplets from the NICU allowed our older kids to see that the babies had finally come out of mama’s belly. Video chat and pictures help older children to connect to the new baby and begin to understand that they will be home with you soon.
–Communication is key
Older siblings will definitely have a lot of questions/worries/thoughts about the new baby. Do your best to address them. Even if you think they may be too young to understand, try anyway. You will be surprised by how much they can comprehend. If you ask them for help with the baby, and they would rather not, don’t force it. Continue to have those “feelings” conversations as you help them navigate their way through this change in their life. And of course (not that you need a reminder), make sure to keep telling them how special they are to you and your family.
Change can be challenging. Change can be scary (even for mama). But most of all, change can lead to something pretty amazing. Remember that you are giving your child the most incredible gift of a sibling!
“Change is hard at first, messy in the middle, and gorgeous at the end.” -Robin Sharma