We have a very special (and very pregnant) friend who has requested our return from retirement to blog about a topic that is understandably feeling very important and timely to her – introducing an older child to a new sibling. Since her request was so flattering and we have been feeling the itch to write a bit again we spent some time reflecting about those beautifully insane days when we had infants in our homes and complied our best tidbits of advice for introducing a new baby into the family and fostering the early connection between siblings.
Do some prep work before the baby arrives. Talk, talk and then talk some more to your older child about what to expect. Discuss how you will hold a baby, how they eat, how much they might sleep, reasons they might cry, what they will and won’t be able to do, etc. Kellie found an easy way to spend a little time talking about the subject every day by incorporating a book about a new baby coming into a family into her daughter’s nighttime reading routine. She loved hearing about what to expect and enjoyed the relaxed time to ask questions about what was going to happen.
Try to keep your (understandably high) emotions in check when the big meeting takes place. Now we all know that is no small feat when you are exhausted and flooded with hormones, but if you can remind yourself to try to do your best to not project your big feelings about or ideals for the big moment onto young children it gives them their needed space to process things in their own way. We all have this vision in our head of this beautiful moment of connection between our children, but the moment itself will probably involve them feeling more overwhelmed by the hospital setting or unsettled because they may have just been away from you from longer then they have before. Allow your focus to be on respecting and validating whatever feelings they might be having in the moment. This will help them feel assured that you don’t want or need them to be anyone or anything different just because the baby is here.
Along those same lines, try to keep your emotions in check with their behavior that can sometimes accidentally be too rough or irresponsible. I clearly remember the moment when I walked into the living room after a 30 second bathroom break to find my one-year-old son sitting on my infant son’s head. I wanted to flip out and scream “GET OFF THE BABY HE CANNOT BREATHE” but I mustered all my parental self-control and calmly said “please get off the baby’s head”. My one year old stood up…watched his little brother gasp for air and then said “Oh sa-See Bebe” before he patted his head and
ran off to play. He only wanted to be close to the baby, but had I reacted with anger he could have associated his being around the baby with angry mommy or even the baby coming and mommy getting more impatient. It is also very helpful to do hands on demonstrations of what is gentle versus rough touches. Anytime one of my older children was rough with baby, I would take their hand in mine and rub it softly against my face and then their own face while repeating “this is how we are gentle…this is how we are gentle.”
Give them their own baby. This is great for several reasons. First, it can be used as a teaching tool both during your prep work mentioned above and when the baby is here. For example, after said head sitting incident we spent a lot of time practicing the way we can hold, touch or play with a baby using my son’s baby doll. Second, it can allow them to feel like they are “playing” with you while you are just trying to get through the endless hours of care a baby requires. Ask them to feed, change and dress their baby alongside you while you do the same to their sibling. Kellie even invested in a baby carrier for her older daughter so the two of them could each wear their own babies together each day.
Try to facilitate simple ways to make the older child feel like the baby already loves and enjoys them. And I really am talking extremely simple. For example, I used to put a slightly hungry and rooting infant up to their big siblings cheek because I knew they would turn and try to suck on it. My older two used to squeal with delight when this happened and I would be sure to say something like “look he’s trying to kiss you…because he loves you.” Or when the baby was fussing after a nap and I knew they would most likely soothe when I picked them up…before getting him I would ask my daughter to sing or talk to the baby and then I would pick him up and tell her “look he loves your singing/talking so much he stopped crying.” These probably seem so basic, but think about how good it feels to you as an adult to feel loved and needed. Facilitating moments where the baby makes the older child feel that way helps root their connection in warm feelings.
Keep their routine as consistent as possible. Sure as adults we know that overall things are very different once a new baby arrives, but if you can keep most of what makes up your older child’s day similar that will go a long way towards keeping them feeling calm and secure through an unpredictable time. To keep perspective on that I used to try to focus on doing as many of the same things I did with my older children before the baby arrived…only now I had another little human along for the ride. For example, I used to play with them everyday on the floor, so I would try to do a feeding or two while sitting on the floor while they played. When they did their daily music/marching time we would lay the baby down right in the middle on a pillow and they would march and dance around the baby. When they had outside play time we would wear the baby or bring him with us in the stroller. As we did those things we tried to keep language around it very relaxed and matter-of-fact like “look baby is here to sit with us while we play…or baby is going to eat with mommy while we read books.” The point is to just take the focus off the baby making everything change so your older child does not use all the change as a reason to feel resentment.
A new baby is a huge transition and even armed with all the tips and ideas in the world there are going to be some big bumps along the road. When you are feeling overwhelmed by those bumps, try to remind yourself that the main things all of your children need from you are a sense of security and a feeling of unconditional love and acceptance and in the moments when you crawl into bed at night exhausted and not sure if you even gave them those, remember that everyday is a new day and in the morning the biggest blessing your children can have is a mom who shows up ready to try again.