Going from one child to two can be chaotic for even the most easygoing parents. As difficult as juggling multiple kids can be, the transition can be far more jarring for your older child without careful planning and preparation. Whether your big sibling-to-be is two or ten years old, the family dynamic he’s always known is about to change for good. But you can soften the blow of ousting your firstborn from his only child spot – or your second from the “baby” spot – with a little mindfulness and a lot of love.
Encourage Nurture Play
Little ones may not know what caring for newborns entails. And while it won’t fully mimic the experience of life with a new baby, giving your older child a baby doll before their sibling’s arrival can help demystify what’s ahead. Pretend play is developmentally appropriate when it comes to introducing something new, and taking care of dolls helps them act the part of big brother or big sister in a safe and tangible way. Boys are just as nurturing as girls, and often just as curious about “playing family” – so please don’t fret about encouraging your son play with a baby doll. The experience of being a pretend caregiver – from changing and feeding a doll to rocking it to sleep – instills a sense of autonomy in young kids. It also gives them that coveted feeling of being “grown up,” which in turn may help them want to differentiate themselves behavior-wise after the new baby comes.
Wait to Share
The concept of time is abstract and therefore difficult for some kids and toddlers to grasp. Give them ample time to adjust to your news – but be careful not to give too much time. It may be tempting to share what’s on the horizon as soon as you get the news yourself, but unless you want months of endless interrogation on the baby’s whereabouts, it’s best to wait it out. Save the news about a younger brother or sister for when your belly is visible and you have something palpable like a growing bump and baby kicks to connect with your announcement.
Gifts from the Baby
What can help alleviate a sudden equilibrium shift for a child? One word: thoughtful gifts. Logistical issues aside – how exactly does an unborn baby shop for a gift? – a tried and true tactic for helping a child accept a new sibling is a present “from the baby” upon arrival. We’re not talking extravagant gifts here; anything small and meaningful will do. Think of it like a thank you gift on behalf of the new baby. Chances are, the new older brother or sister will delight in receiving something special the baby “picked out” just for them.
Celebrate their New Role
Part of validating your older child’s new position as big brother or big sister is lauding it every chance you get. It’s not just about welcoming a new baby, but also cementing their new place in the family. “Older sibling” books and T-shirts are both great ways to reinforce this concept. You might even consider a personalized cup with a special nickname or “Best Big Brother [or Sister]” moniker engraved on it. The idea is to celebrate their new role early and often — so much that they can’t help but celebrate it themselves.
For a small child, there’s nothing worse than feeling ignored or excluded – especially when it’s because of a tiny new stranger commanding all your attention. If you can, don’t have him visit you at the hospital unless it’s discharge day; leaving mom behind with a new baby can feel like a jolt of rejection otherwise. Keep a photo of your older child on the bedside table after delivery and make sure he sees it when he comes to meet the newest member of the family. Having them join on the car ride home also creates the feeling of a cohesive family unit from the get-go. And after baby is home and visitors start trickling in, it’s important to remind them to greet your older child first, before making a beeline for the baby. A little mindfulness goes a long way – so do everything in your power to make sure big brother or big sister never feels left out of the equation.
Embrace Your Rituals
After baby comes home, it’s even more crucial to create space for your older child to adjust. Abrupt changes to the family’s equilibrium can understandably lead to outbursts of anger and jealousy. This is where rituals come into play. Was there a special activity or outing you’d enjoy as a family of three? It may seem like an impossible feat, but carving out time for weekly “mommy, daddy and me” dates with your older child is a great way to ease the transition. Regular baby-free bonding time is key for an older sibling to understand that your love for them hasn’t changed. He is still the center of your world; all that’s changed is that he now shares the stage.
Keep in mind that sometimes, even if you do everything “right,” things can still go awry. Don’t panic if regressive behaviors like bed wetting, thumb sucking or asking for pacifiers start to creep in after baby’s arrival – this is completely normal and will eventually pass, especially as your older child gets used to having a newborn around and embraces his dynamic new role. Try to be kind to yourself and your child, regardless.
Sibling rivalry is unavoidable, but soon enough, it’ll be replaced by sibling revelry – and that’s all a parent can ask for. Just like your heart expands to love another tiny human as much as you love your first, the same will eventually happen for your kids. It might just take a little time to find your groove as a newly minted family of four (or more!).