Parents are often overcome with joy and pride after bringing a new baby home. However, it is important to be aware of how other family members are adjusting to your baby. When my wife and I brought our firstborn, Bennett, home from the hospital, we could not stop beaming. Unfortunately, our dog, Cooper, was not nearly as excited.
Dogs aren’t the only family members that can be hesitant about welcoming a new baby home. Older siblings may also be cautious of a new addition that demands the attention of parents. Young children may struggle with feeling left out, sharing time and attention, and learning how to gently play with their new brother or sister. As a parent, it’s important to prepare your child for the introduction of a new family member and making her feel loved and appreciated after bringing your baby home.
Fortunately, there are many simple ways you can prepare your child for a new brother or sister. One of my favorite resources is the First Experiences section of the Fred Rogers Company website. Additionally, here are a few suggestions I have from my experience of preparing my son for his new sister’s arrival:
- Don’t tell them too soon. Young children don’t fully understand time and it’s difficult for them to wait for future events. Judging from all the clever big-sibling-to-be announcements online, some parents choose to share the news early on. We decided to wait to tell Bennett about my wife’s pregnancy until she was about six months along. We didn’t want to simply tell our son about the baby, we wanted to show him evidence to help him understand. Because we waited, Bennett was able to feel the baby kicking after we told him.
- Take a walk down memory lane. Relive your older child’s infancy so he doesn’t repeat it. Some children regress after a new baby arrives. While they are simply trying to win your attention by resorting to old habits, you certainly don’t want your child to play the baby when you have a real one who needs attention and care.
My wife and I spent time looking at Bennett’s baby pictures with him and talking about what he was like as an infant. We shared memories of how happy we were when he was born. This was our way of telling him, “Look, you were a baby once, and you got the same treatment we plan to give your baby sister. We loved you when you were a baby, and we love you now that you’re a big boy.”
- Get them involved. When there’s an infant in the house, it’s all hands on deck. Include your older child in the action by giving them small, age-appropriate tasks. Our family has discussed things that Bennett will help us with, like fetching diapers, listening for the baby’s cries, bringing bottles and other easy tasks. Because he knows how he can help once the baby arrives, he will feel useful and included as things get busy.
- Find a role model. Find someone (real or fictitious) to be your older child’s role model. This role model may be found in a book, movie, TV show or friend. We discovered Bennett’s model when Daniel Tiger got a baby sister in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. A series of episodes follow Daniel as he learns about, prepares for and welcomes home his new baby sister, Margaret. The show has become our family’s go-to reference. When we struggle to explain something about the baby, we discuss relevant episodes: “Remember what happened on Daniel Tiger?”
- Make the new baby real – before she gets here. Two words: 3D ultrasound. Bennett loved seeing his baby sister on the screen, with her nose and lips and fingers and toes. An ultrasound gives your child a preview of the day when he will meet his little sibling in person.