Welcoming in a new baby to your family is an exciting event! But are you feeling unsure about how your first-born will react to the new little one? I have had the pleasure of helping several families on this journey of transitioning from parents of one to parents of two. Here are a few ideas that I have found to help ease the transition for both parents and the older brother or sister:
1. Books! Visit your local library or bookstore to find child-geared books on the topic of bringing home a new sibling. Having a few children’s books on hand to read and talk about with your little one is a great way to introduce them to the concept of a new little sibling. This worked wonders with my most recent charge and helped him to prepare for the arrival of his baby sister. We referred to the characters in the book as members of his own family – his mommy, his daddy, his new sister, and himself. When the baby arrived, he saw the book come to life in his own experience and was elated! Joanna Cole has an “I’m a Big Sister” and “I’m a Big Brother” book that I really love; it is all about getting your firstborn excited to transition into the big sibling role. She highlights what is good about having a new baby, which is precisely what your older child wants and needs to hear.
2. Include your child in preparation for baby. Having your older child participate in the washing, setting up, and purchasing of baby related items will help him or her to feel involved. Children desire to have some control of their environment and lives, and sometimes the thought of suddenly having a new sibling makes them feel a little out of control. You can help your older child feel a sense of control in an otherwise uncontrollable area of their life by asking them to help you with organizing baby clothes, picking out baby blankets, or otherwise helping prepare for their new sibling. This also helps them feel a sense of responsibility and connection to their new sibling, and allows them a sense of ownership. After the little one arrives, having your older child assist in caring for the baby will further solidify the concept that this is his or her baby, as well, instilling a sense of pride and responsibility in being a big helper. Having your first-born throw the diaper in the trash, put the empty bottle on the counter, find a pacifier or blanket for baby are all easy, safe ways to include your oldest child in baby duty.
3. Set them up with a baby doll, pretend baby bottle, wipes, pacifiers, etc. Many girls might already have these toys, but if your family has a toddler son and is expecting a newborn, I encourage you to borrow or purchase a doll for your young son to experience caring for his baby while Mommy cares for the new baby. As mommy feeds, washes, and changes the baby, your little one can likewise care for his or her doll. This gives your child a job to do when Mommy is occupied and unable to engage the older child. I also like to tie baby dolls onto my kiddos front/tummy, so the kids feel like they are carrying their baby, much like Mommy and Daddy do with the newborn. Additionally, I’ve seen wonderful baskets filled with toys, given to the older child only when Mommy is nursing. The older child gets to play with the special toys during the times Mommy can not help him or her otherwise. A few cars, horses, or other small-medium sized items will suffice. After baby nursing time is over, the toys are returned to the basket and put away for the next time.
4. After baby arrives, allow your first-born to love him or her! During my time spent with families after the arrival of a second child, I encourage the parents to let their first-born touch the baby. Letting your older child touch, hold, and love the baby solidifies that this is THEIR baby too and that loving is what we do. Whether their own sibling or strangers, I do not allow face touching of infants for health and safety reasons. Otherwise, allowing for the stroking of fingers, toes, and bellies of those sweet newborn cherubs is the perfect way to help your older child bond with their new sibling.
5. Lastly, do not worry, stress, or freak out if and when your older child acts out! Some children accept a new sibling without a hitch, but many children, when they realize baby sister is here to stay, will act up. You may see temper tantrums, behavior regression, potty accidents, or aggression. All of those reactions, and many more, are typical. Rest assured that you are not the first, nor the last, parent to have a child react in that manner. It only means your precious first-born loves you dearly and is not happy about sharing you. I encourage my families to spend time with the older child after the baby is born; have each parent take the child on one-on-one fun date days, so they see that baby is not keeping Mom and Dad from them. Additionally, be firm and consistent on discipline; this will assure your child he or she is loved, safe, and still very much cared for by Mom and Dad. If you experience a potty training regression, don’t fret. Your older child will bounce back, but he or she may need some time. The return of pull-ups or training underwear again is normal; refrain from punishing or shaming your child. Praise your child for being gentle, loving, and for making good choices. All they want is your attention, so give them plenty of it in a positive manner!
The best way to help your older child welcome in a new baby is to help them to see and feel that this change is a positive one. The more consistent his or her life can remain during the early days of having a new sibling, the better. If school, outings, discipline, and love can remain constant in your older child’s life during this time, the more peaceful the transition will be for everyone once the baby arrives. In the end, children accept, love, and have a “forever friend” in their sibling. So cuddle up with your big kid and your newborn and show them both that your love is unconditional and immeasurable. Congratulations, you’re now a family of four!
Britney Fredrickson is a nanny of six years with a B.A. in Child Development. She lives in the Napa Valley with her husband, Great Dane/Border Collie mix, and orange tabby. Having begun as a preschool/infant teacher, Britney now uses her experience and education to specialize in nanny shares, predominantly working with toddlers under age three. When she isn’t wrangling kids, she can be found reading, sewing, and noshing on goat cheese. For real time tips and anecdotes follow her on Twitter @sisternannies.