With your first baby, everything is new and the learning curve is steep. The good news is, if you choose to have additional kids, it’s progressively easier each time. Your body has done this before, you’ve experienced the highs and low and are probably much better prepared to welcome a new baby into your home. One exception with additional births is the children you already have. Instead of simply prepping your home and yourselves, you need to prep your children for the new addition and that can be tricky! Giving thought to how your child will adjust to a new sibling is wise, and there are many steps you can take to smoothing the transition for the whole family.
Siblings Under Age Two
Depending on the age of your child, you’ll want to prepare them differently. Our children are very close in age, so when our second was born, our first was still a bona fide baby. I’d say this is one of the hardest ages to introduce drastic change to. Our oldest, being 14 months at the time didn’t really understand what was happening, regardless of how many times we told her about her brother in mommy’s tummy and how he was coming home to live with us soon. Children under age two will have a hard time comprehending this change and may not welcome your new bundle of joy with the same enthusiasm as their parents, but don’t lose heart. Your baby or toddler’s initial reaction will not be their lifelong opinion! Consider having a small selection of toys that are special and set apart and only bring them out during the times when your baby needs 100% of you – perhaps during nursing sessions or as you’re putting him down for a nap. This will serve the double purpose of occupying your child and helping them enjoy a time of the day that is often laden with jealousy.
Endear Baby to Her Sibling
Especially with smaller children, welcoming baby can be confusing and create a range of emotions they aren’t fully able to communicate or understand. Do what you can to endear your new baby to your older child both before and after her arrival. Months before birth, begin to explain to your child how the baby will love them so much, how they’ll be lifelong friends, and how excited you are for them to have a sister or brother. Let your child choose some clothing or nursery decor for their new sibling. Likewise, many families choose to buy a special gift for their older child at the birth of their new sibling and explain that the present is from the baby. Maybe you’ve narrowed your baby name choices down to two or three but can’t make a final decision. Why not let the big sister or brother have the honour? A friend of mine did this with her youngest and her older two children felt so proud of having chosen baby’s middle names.
As your child enters the preschool years, they’re more perceptive and able to help with small tasks relating to baby. Help them feel appreciated and useful by asking for help doing little things such as bringing you a clean diaper or wipes from the other room, taking baby’s dirty clothing to the laundry hamper, choosing a blanket for baby’s nap time, etc. There’s also a larger chance your older child isn’t napping anymore, so make sure to use baby’s naptime as a time to invest in his big sibling. If your children are school-aged, they’re not fighting for your attention all day, but they will certainly feel that when they’re home and baby still needs you constantly. Though babies are tremendously needy, they can also be safe in a crib or bouncing chair for thirty minutes while you take the time to welcome your older children home from school and remind them of their importance in your life.
Talk it Through
Take the time to ask your child regularly how they are feeling about having a new sister or brother. Give them options of emotions to help them put a name to what they’re feeling. Are they ever jealous? Worried? Do they miss anything from the time before baby arrived? Talk about these very real feelings with your child. Validate what they’re expressing, even if it seems negative, and help steer them towards love and acceptance of their sibling.
“I know you miss all the extra time you used to have with mommy and daddy. That was a special season in our lives when all of our attention went to just one child. I understand how you’re feeling, honey. Babies need a lot of attention from their parents when they’re very little, but soon she’ll be big enough to play with you and you two will have so much fun together. Until then, let’s plan something special during baby’s nap time today, just you and me, ok? How about we build a fort together?”
Friends come and go but siblings last forever. These bonds may feel fraught with challenges at times, but they are lifelong and when nourished well, can grow to be quite strong. There’s no magic potion to cause your children to be best friends, but I have found that an open schedule with lots of time together and a no-tolerance policy for fighting has done wonders.
These days it’s common for children to be in three or more extra-curricular activities each week and to lead lives even busier than their parents. No matter how enriching the activity, I would argue that if the child isn’t spending enough quality time at home with their family, they’re no better off. We intentionally plan open weekends with nothing on the calendar and marvel at what our three kids get up to when there’s nothing planned for them! If our kids are arguing more than usual, we also push them closer together with a shared chore or activity instead of the typical method of separating them.
We also have no leniency for sibling fighting. If our children are fighting over a toy, the question follows, “what’s more important, this toy or your brother?” and they know the answer. Our children now know to apologize and ask for forgiveness and to always hug it out after a disagreement. These tendencies aren’t natural but they can be taught! We tell them daily that they are one another’s best friends. The older two knew the drill when our youngest was born and took to calling their baby sister their new best friend the day she came home from the hospital. These things need to be fostered of course, but by and large, our children believe the things we tell them, especially those we repeat over and over.