Contributed by Liz Farrell
A three-step process for helping children accept a new sibling
September is commonly a time for new transitions, mostly for our children as they head back to school. For the past several years, I have written about ways to ease those back-to-school transitions; however, this month I am writing about a different kind of transition, one that is personal and that our family will soon face: a new baby. This is something we are all eagerly awaiting, but the effect could be greatest felt by our other two children. Here are some tips that I hope will make this next transition a smooth one for our family and yours:
Before baby: The key to any transition is preparation and setting expectations. Preparing siblings for a new baby is no different. As your body begins to change, use the opportunity to talk about what is happening inside you. There are hundreds of books to help with this. Some of the best have pictures of how the baby is growing each week. Another way to help children prepare is to get them involved by helping with the nursery or to practice changing or feeding their own baby dolls. I also recently brought both children to one of my prenatal appointments so they could hear the baby’s heartbeat, which they loved.
After this experience the excitement really escalated, and one morning I found them creating a “countdown chain.” Each day we take off a link as a visual countdown until the baby comes. Finally, as the due date approaches, make sure to discuss with them the arrangements while you are in the hospital — who will be with them, when they will see you, and how long you will be gone.
At the hospital: When we went from one child to two, I found there were several key things that helped. One was not to hold the baby when the other child came into the room. I would have the baby in the bassinet or have someone else hold him so the first thing I could do for my other child was to welcome her with a hug. We also had pictures taped to the hospital bed and the baby’s bassinet of the older child so she could see she was always present. The last thing we did, which was fun and helped especially with younger children, was when they came to visit I had a “surprise” from the new baby, anything from a lollipop to a new book. Finally, keep the visits short because you are still trying to recover; long visits in a small room can be trying for everyone.
Coming home: Continue to think of ways the older children can be involved, such as helping decorate with balloons and streamers or coloring a welcome home sign.
When you get home, let Dad carry the baby inside so Mom’s arms can be open for the other children. Depending on how many older siblings there are, get ready to be “chief referee.” Figure out a system for who will get to help with what (diapers, bath time, feeding) and whose turn it is to hold the baby. Also, as exhausted as you may feel, make special time for each child. One or both parents should have a planned activity outside the home with each older child. This should be part of a weekly routine for the sibling and can be a trip to the park, library or music class.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help from family, friends or neighbors. For me this is much easier said than done, but a new baby can be a stressful time as everyone in the household tries to adjust, so getting help with a carpool or a having a dinner made can make all the difference.