You are getting ready to bring your newborn home from the hospital and are filled with excitement as you think ahead. Perhaps you have been engaged in preparing your older child for several months already, or maybe you felt like the adjustment was going to be easy and so you didn’t think any preparation was needed. Now, as your older child awaits, you pause and wonder what this transition will be like for her.
Let’s pause and take a look at ways that you can lay the groundwork for having this transition go well.
Make your oldest child part of the celebrations.
At your baby shower, have a small gift table for grandparents and close family members to bring a small “big sister” or “big brother” gift for your oldest. If you have multiple children, it may be more feasible for you to have a small table where you and your spouse leave something special for each child to open rather than asking family.
Read books about the new baby. Together, prepare a warm welcome together with your older child. Buy t-shirts that say “Big Brother” or “Big sister”. Celebrate the occasion! It’s a big deal!
Welcome your older child in the hospital to hold the new baby, and to stay late in the room and enjoy the fun of being together as a family. This time will come once, and it is so meaningful to your older child to feel included and celebrated. Her world is about to change as the baby comes home.
Include your oldest in caring for the baby before the baby arrives.
Help your older child to feel involved by playing music for the baby in utero, feeling the baby kick, and giving your tummy hugs. Allow her to help prepare the nursery. Go shopping together for baby items together and ask her to pick out some special things. Discuss baby names together.
If she enjoys baby dolls or stuffed animals, whether to care for or to sleep with, purchase one for her to have that is special during this time.
Speak to your baby in utero and talk about your older child with plenty of affirmation and praise.
Science tells us that in utero, babies are sensitive to sound. They know the sound of their family’s voices and respond to those familiar sounds with movement. Talk to your baby while pregnant about her big sister. (For example, while rubbing your hand over your belly, you might say “You are going to love your big sister when you arrive! She is so kind and loving….and, wait until you see her dance moves! She is going to make you smile!” Big sister will be standing close by, soaking in your words, and likely grinning from ear to ear.
Tell your older child lots of stories about when she was born.
When you have some quiet time with your older child, talk about her birth! Talk about how special it was, and all of the amazing attention she received at the time. Talk about how excited your were.
Balance your time between your baby and your older child, and incorporate daily special time for your oldest.
Consider that your older child may feel insecure and want more of your attention. This may continue for the foreseeable future.
Older children are used to being the sole subjects of mom and dad’s affections. They are used to being the “cat’s meow”, the center of their family’s world, the pride of grandparents, and the person around whom all big family decisions have been made. When a new sibling enters the picture and begins to take up more and more time with mom and dad, older siblings can often face feelings of insecurity and jealousy. This competition is not generally a sibling to sibling competition for who is better or more valued, but rather, a competition for parents and for parental time. What should you do if your older child feels a bit jealous? Take it as a complement. Spread your love out in action. Nurture and support the relationship with your oldest.
Consider, in a multi-child household, how you teach children to wait their turn for your time. For example, let’s imagine that your younger child is needing help with bath time, and your older child is simultaneously wanting to play with you. You repeatedly tell your older child to wait. She cries and fusses repeatedly to get attention, until finally, you get upset. When this pattern is repeated, she learns that to gain your attention, she needs to cry. A great way to handle this is to think ahead. If she is wanting attention while you are helping your little one, make eye contact, be gentle and affirming in your words, and provide a redirection. For instance, you might say, “I need to help Anna with her bath, but would love it if you’d bring your toys over and play right here by me so I can watch you, too.” Remember, teaching a child to wait is not unhealthy. However, it is important to remain mindful of how, when, and in what order you respond to your children so that your response conveys balance, love, and fairness.
Another way to make an older child feel loved and included as your baby grows is to plan some special time daily during which you or your spouse can have one on one time with her. Take turns so she has time with mom and with dad. It will pay off in dividends. This kind of time should be unconditional, as in, not dependent on your child’s behavior. It should happen, no matter what.
Keeping older child busy during feedings.
When busy feeding your youngest, keep your older child occupied. Feeding your baby will be, or course, very frequent and consuming of your time for many months to come. If you are alone, make feeding time for the baby an enjoyable time for your older child. You can have toys nearby and ready for her to play, feed the baby outside while watching her play, or encourage her to choose a special book and read quietly near you. If your spouse is home, this can be a special time for her and dad to spend time together, play, or go on an outing. If you are formula feeding, you have the benefit of being able to allow your oldest to help hold the bottle for the baby on occasion while sitting next to you. It is a great way to include her and build their relationship.
Praise participation but don’t make it a requirement or expectation.
If your older child doesn’t want to participate in helping care for the baby, and prefers to be playing or busy with something else, don’t worry. Every child is different. Many parents I’ve helped over the years come in with the expectation that their older child will help with caring for the baby by helping with various tasks. This is an unrealistic expectation, even for older children or teens. Caretaking is a parent’s duty. For children, it should be a fun and enjoyable opportunity to get involved, and parents should encourage and praise it, but not make it an obligation or chore. This maintains healthy boundaries and relationships between parents and children.
Last but not least, hugs, hugs, and more hugs.
Keep in mind your older child will be observing the new baby getting lots of physical closeness and warmth from adults. Be sure to provide lots of hugs and affection toward her also, setting a tone for the future and creating an environment where they both feel equally included and loved.