If your child is anything like most children, they will probably be stoked one day about a new baby or worried the next. While a new baby is exciting, a brother or sister may not understand the changes ahead. They may see the baby as an addition to their self-centered view, or they will be worried about exclusion. Here are tips for preparing older children for a new baby.
When your child says or does something shocking, rather than reacting to their comments with correction or judgment, offer an open discussion. Start by asking them why they feel the way they do. Once they reveal their fears to you, let them know that your attention to the baby does not exclude them from receiving your love. Mothers try not to use the baby or pregnancy as an excuse not to participate in activities with their children. Make it more about the way you feel. Instead, say:
- “Mommy is not feeling well.”
- “Mommy feels exhausted”.
- “Mommy cannot leave the baby unattended right now. There will be a time when we can _____. You can stay with me.”
- “Your brother/sister is small now, but they will grow and be able to _____ with you.”
- “Would you like to help mommy with the baby?”
- “We could all ____[read, watch a show, go somewhere] together.”
Working on Your Relationship
While your child needs to prepare for change, they need to have a secure relationship with you. Focus on:
- Both parents spend quality time as often as possible with the older child
- Taking time to talk with your older child even after the baby is born
- Stealing some alone time with your older child even after the baby comes
- Your awareness of your older child’s emotional state and needs (they may not always tell you something is bothering them, you may need to ask them.)
- Touching and hugging them as often as they will allow
- Helping them find something that interests them ( lessons, activities, or books that pique their interest)
- Finding friend groups that circle older siblings and new babies
For children excited about the new baby, you may need to clarify what it means to have a younger sibling. For first-time siblings, children can believe the baby will arrive ready to play with them. You need a proactive, honest discussion about their role with the baby. Remember you should:
- Let your child know what is dangerous and safe for the baby.
- Clarify to small children that the baby will not be able to participate in all the same activities as them.
- The baby will require more physical time because they cannot care for themselves.
- They will have to share certain things with the baby.
- The baby cannot eat the same things as them.
- The baby could choke on small pieces.
- Your child needs to be extra careful about what they leave out. Cutlery, tools, and hot things must be out of reach.
- Depending on the age, show the older child how to use child-proof locks, baby gates, and other safety appliances.
- Older children may want to pick up the baby or babysit them. Set clear boundaries for your child up front.
Creating Healthy Boundaries
Make sure that you respect your older child’s personal belongings and boundaries. Sharing a room is not easy. You may need to save on space and develop space for both children. If the baby is less than one year, you can keep them in your room. Your younger child will not need boundaries as much at first, but your older child is used to personal space.
- NEVER MAKE YOUR OLDER CHILD GIVE SOMETHING AWAY. Sharing must be their decision. Take time to demonstrate and show them the importance of sharing. Forcing them to share is NOT SHARING.
- Talk about what the child wants to keep or toss.
- Place personal toys and memorabilia out of the younger child’s reach.
- Be prepared to speak with the younger child about why they are not allowed to touch certain items. Find them something special, so they don’t feel left out.
Careful What you Say
While your older child has more experience and higher expectations than the baby, you never want the child to grow up too soon. Keep your expectations of your older child consistent with them being an individual.
- Make sure you don’t compare your older child to the baby. Using phrases like “You’re older.” or “You’re the big sister/brother.” can invalidate or power trip the older child.
- Say, ” I am not used to you acting like this.” or “Why are you acting this way?”
- Keep the focus on your child’s behavior and not the baby.
- If the child is unkind to the baby, ask them why.
- If the child complains that the baby is bothering them, focus on why the baby is acting a certain way. Effectively explain the baby’s actions, but don’t defend the baby/toddler.
- Do not disregard the child’s feelings.
- Help the child empathize with the baby by empathizing with your child. (Put yourself in your older child’s shoes.)
Strong relationships with your older child and baby will help them both be secure in their relationship with you. If you have not had a healthy relationship with your parents, consider seeing a therapist, pastor, or children’s pastor. Check out resources such as Focus on the Family to enhance your understanding of how you should see your child. Most importantly, change how you see your child. Remember how you felt for them when they first arrived here, and think of the remarkable individual they are. Acceptance of your child will help you to love them unconditionally, and your actions will reveal what you feel and think about them. For more parenting tips, follow our blog.