When you’re a first-time mom, your entire focus is on your baby. Feeding, sleeping, bath time, diapers – everything is a new experience for you and your baby, and you learn together as you go along. Establishing routines, learning patterns and nuances – it seems like your reason for living is this little person.
Fast forward a little bit into the future and suddenly you’re about to bring home Baby #2. While some things might change, the bottom line is that you’ve been to this rodeo before, so you have a good idea what to expect. You understand what pregnancy and delivery is like, you remember that feeling of fatigue, you are confident in how to feed, diaper and swaddle your child. You have this under control.
Do you know who is new at all of this? That first little bundle of joy you and your husband brought home – that little one who might now be a toddler, preschooler or even an elementary-school-aged tyke. And you are about to rock his world! Bringing a second child into your family is huge experience, not just for parents, but also for the older sibling. As you are about to enter this phase of life, that quintessential Family of Four stage, channel your inner Boy Scout and remember their motto, “Be Prepared.”
It’s true – a little preparation, especially as it relates to your first child, can go a long way in facilitating a smooth, bringing home baby transition. And we’ve got some tips on preparing the older sibling to meet baby that can make it all easier for everyone!
- Communication is key: How you share the big news will obviously depend on the age of your firstborn. If your child is school-aged, he will better understand that families often have more than one child. You can use family, friends or neighbors as examples and share all the wonderful things that an older sibling can teach the new baby. For younger children, books and DVDs can be very helpful, as is your growing bump that shows that Mommy has a baby in her tummy. Explain that the baby will need a lot of a mother’s time, will be fussy and cry, and will need to be fed and changed a lot. Younger children, especially toddlers and preschoolers need to know that Moms and Dads have enough love for everyone and that nothing changes there. In fact, that’s a great message regardless of your child’s age as a new baby is a big change for everyone! As you talk with your child about what’s will happen, be sure (especially as the delivery looms large) to explain to your child where you will be during your hospital stay. Let him know who will be taking care of him and if he will be visiting you in the hospital or waiting for you to come home. If Mom goes missing all of a sudden, this can cause anxiety – and resentment – in an older sibling. Again, more is less – as long as it is age appropriate.
- Involve them: The level and extent of your child’s involvement will vary based on their age, but an older sibling will be much happier about a new baby if he gets to participate in the process. Based on the sibling’s age, have him help you prepare. Maybe he can pick out new things for the baby – a favorite toy or stuffed animal, books or clothing, something that can be “special,” just from Big Brother. Even better, have them create a work of art, whether it’s a chubby little handprint or a beautiful drawing from an older child, that can go in the baby’s nursery. If it makes sense, let your child see ultrasound pictures or hear names you’re considering for the baby. Allowing your first child to be a part of the preparation tells him he is an important member of your family – and shows that there is room for everyone’s voice to be heard!
- Routines, routines, routines: Having a schedule makes your oldest feel cared for and loved. Once the new baby gets home, don’t be afraid to go back to school or daycare schedules, set nap and bed times, and get back into your old – though somewhat revised – routines. Normalcy is comfortable and lets your firstborn know what to expect. Whether it’s naptime, bedtime, bath time or playtime, make sure your child knows what will change – and what will stay the same. For a new schedule or routine, sell it so your child sees the benefits, such as foregoing the morning nap because you’re a big boy and you just need one nap in the afternoon – that just so happens to coincide with the new baby’s naptime. An immediate lack of structure or routine can make a child feel like they don’t have the same love from Mommy or Daddy, so definitely let your oldest know their schedules matter – and will continue.
- Special Mommy Time: One of the hardest transitions for an older sibling is having to share you with someone else; after all, he had you all to himself. Once the new baby comes along – even though you may wonder where and when you’ll find the time – be sure to carve out some time for just the two of you. It may be the bedtime routine, reading at night (or during Baby’s naps), going for walks or to the Library, snack time or morning cuddles. Whatever it is, do it and make sure your firstborn feels loved. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate, well-planned playdate, just time for the two of you.
- Bring On the Goodies: When a new baby comes into the world, there is a plethora of gifts from family and friends, and especially visitors. While many people feel it is customary to also bring something for the sibling, not everyone thinks the same way. As the parent, it’s perfectly fine for you to have some surprises, some goodies and rewards wrapped or stored for your oldest child. This will help your child feel important and decrease resentment that an older sibling may feel. Additionally, a new baby is a big deal, not just for you but also for the entire family, so why not include everyone in the celebration?
- One step forward, two steps back: When a big change – such as a new addition to the family – happens, regression is normal. First, an older sibling might get handed around in the beginning to neighbors, Nana’s, with Daddy and more; all this change effects a schedule, so learned behaviors such as potty-training or going to bed on his own might fall by the wayside. Additionally, your first child is watching this helpless little baby get all the attention, so it’s tempting to regress to someone who needs more from Mom or to act like a baby as well. It may take some transition time, but remind your oldest of all the benefits of being the Big Kid and praise him for when he acts like it.
Going from odd to even, from three to four is easier in some ways – you know what you’re doing, you’ve already got the gear, you kissed sleep goodbye long ago. But, it’s a challenge, as well. You’ll be pulled in more directions than you thought there were; you’ll need 36 hours in a day; you won’t have enough lap space or arms to hold children. A new addition is a family affair so everyone needs time – and help – to transition. Be patient, be loving, be intentional and most of all, just try to be there. At the end of the day, that’s all a child really needs.
“Preparing Your Family for a New Baby.” Healthychildren.org. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/prenatal/Pages/Preparing-Your-Family-for-a-New-Baby.aspx