Before your new bundle of joy arrived, his “big” brother was over the moon about being the older sibling in the house. However, now that his little brother is here, you’ve noticed that his excitement has faded. You expected some jealousy, and even prepared yourself for it, but things have become difficult to manage. He has even asked “When is he going back in your belly?” A question you absolutely weren’t prepared for.
Anticipating the arrival of a new addition can bring on mixed emotions in your home. Of course, it is an exciting time for everyone, but it also comes along with changes for all, especially for the older sibling. As you strive to juggle everyone’s schedules and keep relationships strong, the change can weigh on him. He may want things to return to the way they were before the new baby arrived. Here are ways you can prepare your child to ensure that the two siblings can build a strong relationship.
Empower with knowledge. Some moms prefer to take matters into their own hands, but some opt to attend a class with their little ones at one of the local hospitals. These classes often cover how to hold the baby, change diapers, and feed with the bottle. They also allow your child to see what a hospital room looks like. And best of all, if you consider the questions and concerns your child may have, you can address them with your obstetrician and empower your child with even more knowledge.
“I recommend taking him to see the area where the action is going to go down,” says Meghan Bardwell, community childbirth educator at Woman’s Hospital. Also, reassuring him that he will have some time with the baby early on can help make him feel good about himself. “Let him see the baby first, before you let in the mass droves of the entire family. Because then, it is increased stimulation when there are tons in the room, and it can be overwhelming,” she says.
Be conscientious of the first meeting. Remember that this is an adjustment for all of you, especially your child. “I recommend that when the child walks into the room that the mom is not holding the baby, and the first thing the child is greeted with is ‘Come sit with mom on the bed. I have missed you, and I am glad to see you,’” says Bardwell. The father or another family member should be holding the baby before slowly introducing him at the child’s comfort level.
Another way to add to the first meeting is by bringing along a gift from the new sibling for the older sibling. “To make my son feel special, I gave him a storybook and said it was from his new baby sister, and he was very excited and wanted to read it to her,” says Maggie O’neil, a local mom.
Let your child take ownership of the new baby. When you give instructions, refer to him as “his baby brother or sister,” or ask him to get “his” baby some wipes, or whatever the task may be. While you may wonder at first how you will divide your time and love among the kids, it becomes effortless and even rewarding to watch the older sibling participate in basic care. The level of involvement in the baby’s day-to-day life usually depends on age. Doing something simple like having the older child grab the pacifier or hold your hand while you give the baby a bottle, makes him feel included and eases tension. Kristen Montgomery of Baton Rouge adds, “I asked my eldest daughter to be mommy’s helper by doing things like handing me a washcloth and diaper, and a year later, she continues to be a wonderful helper with even bigger tasks.”
While it is great to spend quality time together, do not forget to single out some time that is one-on-one with each child. “Letting the other child experience time with the parent, where you talk about things other than the baby, like what his day was like, the best and worst part, or reading a book can make him feel he is not left out or forgotten,” says Bardwell.
Expect a little jealousy. “Even the most well-adjusted children will go through periods where they will say it is not fair they cannot go outside or be as loud as they want because of the baby,” explains Bardwell. Always offer positive reinforcement, and if a child acts out because of his feelings about the new baby, explore why he may be feeling that way. “If it is a toddler, you cannot sit down and talk. They will be less understanding and more demanding, so you have to set ground rules,” says Bardwell. Over time, it should become accepted that the baby is not going anywhere, and some kids just take longer than others to love the new sibling, and that is okay.
Listen to your child. “Throwing him into the situation is a recipe for disaster, so the earlier you bring it up, the better,” says Bardwell. When he knows what to expect, he may be more accepting or eager to take on his new role. “Prepare him by saying the baby takes up a lot of your time, but that does not mean that you want to spend less time with him,” she says. Explain that the baby needs you, but there are things he can do to help and contribute, too.
“You have to go at the child’s pace, as some will jump right into it and want to hold and love the baby right from the beginning, and some are very unsure,” says Bardwell. Do not be pushy, but instead, follow the child’s lead. A sibling relationship will form eventually.
Celebrate your child’s individuality. “When you go into labor, you can have a bag packed for your child with coloring books, stickers, markers, a shirt that says ‘Big Brother,’ and a little camera. It is a great diversion and something special just for him,” says Bardwell. Keep lines of communication open, and have a positive attitude toward the journey. She adds, “The more you expose him and prepare, the more he will love it.” ■