Preparing to bring your new baby home is an exciting time. But when there are other siblings at home, it can be a bit scary too. How will big brother or sister react? Will he be excited? Scared? Jealous? He may be all of those things at various times. It's important that throughout your pregnancy you include older siblings in the planning and preparation for having a new family member.
How Can I Prepare my Older Child for a New Sibling?
Children younger than two will probably not understand what you mean when you tell them they will be a big brother or sister. They might not get it when you say "I'm bringing a new baby home." But they can pick up on your attitude and excitement. Talk excitedly about the new baby. Read books about the new baby and about becoming a big brother or sister. As you keep talking excitedly and happily about it, your child is more likely to see it as a positive change.
Allow new baby's siblings to help get the nursery ready. Older siblings can help select newborn nursery bedding and decor. They can also help set up the baby's room and stack things like diapers, sleepers, and other essentials.
It's important to set expectations from the very beginning about how the new baby will behave. Many times parents tell their siblings that they'll be getting a new playmate. However, that's not exactly the case, at least at first. Explain to siblings what your newborn will actually be doing during the first few months of his life: eating, sleeping, and crying. If an older sibling is expecting to get a fun playmate right out of the gate, he will be sorely disappointed when you bring home this bundle that isn't much fun and is taking all of mom and dad's attention away from him. Make sure you are honest about the reality of having a new baby in the house.
Talk in age-appropriate words to your child about how he or she can help when baby arrives. Many hospitals have classes that siblings can take to talk about what it will be like to have a new baby at home. If your child is old enough to participate in these, they can definitely help older siblings know what to expect and how they can be helpful when their baby brother or sister comes home.
If the birth of a baby means an older sibling will have to move out of a crib and into a big-girl bed, make sure that happens well before your newborn comes home. That gives her an opportunity to get used to her new room and new bed before getting used to the next big change in her life - another baby in the house.
Make arrangements in advance for child care while you are at the hospital. Talk excitedly about it like it will be a fun adventure. Have a few practice runs. If your child will be staying with a family friend while you're in the hospital, have a few "practice" sleepovers before your newborn arrives. That way everyone will be familiar and comfortable with the situation while mom and dad are at the hospital with the new baby.
Introducing Your Older Child to the New Baby?
You've done everything you can to prepare your older children for the new baby. Now the day has come for them to meet their new sibling. How exciting!
If possible, allow siblings to come to the hospital to meet their new baby brother or sister. Make it a celebration! Even though you might be tired from labor, delivery, and sleepless nights, be enthusiastic and happy when siblings come to meet the new baby. Also, make sure that there is someone who can take care of the baby in the hospital room while mom visits with the older siblings. After all, they miss you and it's important that they spend some one-on-one time with you in addition to getting to meet the new baby.
It's a great idea to give older siblings a gift "from" the new baby. Everyone loves a gift - and the giver. This starts the relationship off on the right foot from the beginning.
Once you are home from the hospital, both you and your partner should make it a point to reserve some one-on-one time for older siblings. Instead of having friends and relatives help with the older kids, occasionally ask them to care for the baby so you can read a book to your toddler, go grab a snack with your older children or simply sit and talk. They need to know that you are still available to them despite the demands the new baby will bring.
What Should I Do if My Child Begins to Act Out?
It's perfectly normal for older children to become jealous, to misbehave, and to regress a bit when a new baby arrives. If your child is newly potty-trained, he may start to have accidents. Your child may also say mean things to the baby or act aggressively towards her. Gently correct and redirect his behavior. Watch for opportunities to praise him. Ask him to do little tasks for you, like "please bring me that toy" or "can you throw this diaper in the trash can" then praise him for being helpful. Make sure your older children receive reassurance, lots of love, and praise as they adjust to having the new baby at home.
If your child acts aggressively towards the new baby, act quickly to protect the baby, then take a few deep breaths before correcting the child. Tori Milligan is a Licensed Professional Counselor in St. Louis, Missouri. She has this advice for parents. "Acknowledge the message the older child is trying to send. Is he angry? Sad? Feeling abandoned? If they are old enough to communicate that, try to narrow down what feeling they are having and re-connect with them. Try not to guilt them or make them feel like terrible kids if they do this. Offer positive reinforcement when they show kindness to the baby. For example, 'That was so kind of you to pick the baby's blanket up, thank you.' Lastly, you need to set firm limits. Hitting, pinching, or biting the baby is unacceptable. Use clear language like, 'No hitting. Hitting hurts.'"
Books about Becoming a Big Brother or Sister
One of the best ways to prepare siblings for a new baby is to read books to them about what to expect. Here are a few favorites.
Siblings 3 and Younger
"You're the Biggest" by Lucy Tapper.
"Big Brothers are the Best" by Fran Manushkin.
"Big Sisters are the Best" by Fran Manuskin.
"The New Baby at Your House" by Joanna Cole
"We Have a Baby" by Cathryn Falwell
Books for Siblings Ages 4-8
"Little Big Girl" by Claire Keane
"Babies Don't Eat Pizza" by Dianne Danzig
"Waiting for Baby" by Harriett Zeifert
"Baby on the Way" by William & Martha Sears and Christie Watts Kelly