Finding out your family is expecting a new little sibling can be full of exciting feelings. Being prepared, as well as preparing the big siblings can help ease the process. No matter if the sibling is young or older, there are many tips, tricks and supports to prepare them for this exciting milestone.
Big siblings can get very excited for a new little sibling announcement. The promise of playing together, and having a built-in forever friend. Rarely do children understand that for the first few months or more, babies won’t do much more than sleep, cry, poop and monopolize their parents’ time. This can often lead to unwanted “behaviours.” Behaviours are often expressions of needing support from their adult. For the adults though this can be difficult with a new baby. This is quite evident in children under 6 years where their general understanding of time and sharing are still work in progress. While we are also trying to adjust to losing sleep, a cocktail of hormones and a new family dynamic, often they are facing big emotions. Some of these emotions may include:
For the first six weeks (give or take) the birthing parent will spend a lot of that time recovering from delivery, as well as bonding with baby. This can induce feelings of jealousy which can show up in many ways. In very small children it could look like crying and temper tantrums, in children 6 years and above it could show up as being very emotional, not wanting to share, and being disconnected. To be proactive, start small. Ask your partner or a friend to come spend time with the baby, supporting and attending to their needs while you engage in on the floor activities with them. Colouring building Lego, snuggling for a movie and popcorn and other favorites. Once you are feeling healed remember to make special dates and activities just for the big sibling(s)and each parent.
When the big sibling shows the emotion of jealousy, acknowledge and validate them. It is hard having someone be your everything (mom/dad/etc) and then one day they’re expected to split their time minimally 50/50 with no consent. That’s a huge change. If the child is older, it is okay to have healthy conversations about jealousy, turn taking and what just can’t be changed. “It’s hard to share, hey?”
That a parent’s heart grows for more children, not divides. If your kiddo is bigger, it’s okay just to talk to them and acknowledge these feelings. It seems scary when mom doesn’t help right away, hey? If they’re old enough it is okay to involve them in the problem-solving strategy of sharing time and validating feelings. Be careful not to shame them for their feelings. Shaming may sound like “you don’t need to worry” or telling them not to worry. They’re still working through this big concept. If they are still pretty young, it is okay to be fair and firm. Saying things like “I know its scary when mommy has to go into the bedroom to change their diaper, but I can’t hold you now. I need to finish changing them, and then we can snuggle.”
Mom, dad, baby… whoever is involved, they are all enraging. They don’t let you do anything you want; you seem to always be in the way, and you’re not even fully sure you know what is going on. Being a new big sibling can be tough. This may show up as violence, such as biting or hitting or temper tantrums and stealing. Again, these feelings tend to work closely with jealousy. It is okay to show compassion by having strong, healthy boundaries. “I won’t let you bite me. I won’t let you hurt the baby.” Follow up quickly with what they can do. “I can’t let you hit me, when I’m done, I will sit on the floor with you.” I’m scared you will seriously hurt the baby and I can’t let you.”
Get them involved
There are so many amazing ways to include big siblings with a new baby. Preparing them before the baby comes can be really beneficial. This might include watching age-appropriate shows or reading age-appropriate books, and then connecting how they are like the characters with their new baby. “See how the brother… when the baby gets here that’s what you can do!” I also liked to change the characters names in the story to my child’s name.
Before my daughter was born, I would sit with my young son and watch tv shows that showed off characters getting new siblings. One example is Daniel Tiger “The Tiger Family Grows/Daniel Learns About Being a Big Brother.” It helped me use situations that happened in the Tiger Family which may come up for us. They also have great songs which we could sing together. Once the baby was here, I would remind him, “remember when… can you do that?”
If your child is older, it is great to just talk to them and ask where they want to be involved. If they decline helping in certain ways, respect their wishes and honour their own boundaries. These should never compromise safety, but if you ask them to grab something and they say no, acknowledge they declined and let it go. If it is not a choice, do not present it as such. It is okay to describe the expectation, and then thank them when they’re done instead. This might end up sounding like “I need you to pick up your Lego so the baby won’t choke” and then once they’re done thanking them for their quick action and support.
Get them excited
In the hallways I had fun stickers, art supplies and sensory activities I only brought out when the baby was down so either I could sit with him and play, or he could engage at the kitchen table and I would clean or prep food. The key was that these only came out when I needed direction and engagement. If the toys are consistently out, they can become boring and abused. When my little sister was born, I was four years old. I don’t remember much, but I have a happy feeling when I can remember that my parents gave me a My Little Pony, a gift from my newborn sister. My younger brother got a construction truck from her. So, when my husband and I found out we were pregnant with our second, we decided to include this tradition for our own son. At Christmas, our “baby” bought a doll for my son to care for until she was born. When she was born, we had a gift bag from our baby to him with lots of quiet individual activities he could do while mom was busy with her. A Water Paint pad from Melissa and Doug, new crayons and a blank paper pad, a doodle pad, a set of puzzles I knew he could do alone, and a stuffed cat which matched a smaller stuffed cat.
There are lots of ways to help big siblings get excited, such as including them in the design and decorating of the nursery, choosing books to share in the baby’s room, inviting them to the birth and giving them opportunities to be involved in the pregnancy. My midwife let my son listen to the baby's heartbeat and use the tools during the check up. However you choose to include the big siblings, this is a glorious event for everyone that you can look back on fondly with memories and milestones.
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