Congratulations! So you are about to welcome a new baby into the home: how do you make sure your older child is as excited as you are?
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There is nothing more exciting (and nerve wracking) than welcoming a new baby into the home. If you’re anything like me, you want to ensure your children love each other as much as you love them, and starting their relationship off on the right foot is a vitally important step in this vision. So how do you make sure your older child is happy to welcome a new baby brother or sister with open arms?
As soon as I was pregnant with my second child – or as I later found out, my second children (I had twins!) – I started to consider the relationship my older son would have with his younger siblings, and how I could make sure there was no resentment or jealousy involved. My eldest son had never had to compete for my attention before, and I had always been the one who was there for him, offering him my (almost!) undivided attention.
It may sound strange, but I began to consider how I would feel if a new person was introduced to my relationship with my best friend: I thought about how I would feel if my friend surprised me by suddenly introduced someone new who she seemed really close with, and I suddenly had to share her attention with someone else as a 3. I concluded that I would probably feel a mixture of jealousy, resentment, and anger, amongst other emotions. (These feelings may be slightly different for you, so it might be worth reflecting on your own feelings in this situation). This thought then formed the basis of how I planned to tackle the relationship building of my children.
So with that in mind, here are the ways I made sure my children formed strong bonds with each other, which hopefully will help you too:
Before the birth (during pregnancy)
- Involve your child in new baby conversation. I decided to tell my then 2 year old that I was having a baby straight away. It was in part a protective measure – after all, I did not want him jumping on my belly unintentionally – whilst also being a way to involve him in the process and give him the most amount of time to get used to the idea. From that point on, we talked a lot about babies: how my tummy would grow, what it would be like when the babies arrived, where they would sleep… we talked about anything and everything baby, and he got really comfortable with the idea very quickly.
- Talk about when they were a baby. As well as talking about the new baby, it can be helpful to talk about when they were a baby. This helps it to a little more relatable for them, and although my son could not remember being a baby he really enjoyed hearing stories about what he was like as a baby.
- Take your child to medical appointments. OK, they may find it a bit boring waiting around or may not quite understand what is going on. They may even make things more stressful for you and give you an extra thing to think about. But I truly believe that involving them in appointments and explaining what is happening at each stage in language appropriate to their stage of development helps them feel like an important part of the pregnancy process. If you have a younger child, it also helps them get used to the doctors and hospital setting, which may make it feel less intimidating when the baby actually arrives.
- Seek your child’s opinion buying equipment. If your child is old enough, having them express their opinions on what the baby might like really helps them to form a bond with their new brother or sister before they have even met them. I used to ask my son ‘do you think the babies will like this?’ and he was very excited to contribute. I also got him to chose presents that were just from him, to build the anticipation of giving them to the new arrivals.
- Let them feel the baby kicking. My son absolutely adored feeling the movements in my tummy and seeing the feet and hands poking through my skin. It is such a great bonding experience, and makes them feel connected to their sibling. You could also consider buying a foetal doppler heart rate monitor if you want to share the experience of listening to your baby’s heart beat with your child. (Available here https://amzn.to/3c28Mqg).
- Make them feel special and important. I made sure I told my son how important it was to be a big brother, and how special he was – only fantastic children get chosen to have such an amazing role! The pride on his face during these moments was honestly heart melting.
- Give them a rough timeline. Children often struggle with the concept of time – it feels a lot longer to them than it does us. If there is an event near to the due date, you could roughly connect it to this, for example ‘the baby will come just after Christmas’, but make sure they know it will be ages yet! It can be helpful to compare the timing to something your child enjoys, such as painting or baking – you have to wait until it is ready before you touch it, and that takes time and patience.
- Make sure they are well prepared for when you go into hospital. If you do have to stay away from home, ensure they know this is going to happen and are mentally and physically prepared for it – they need to expect a baby to come at the same time. Your child could help you pack a bag of special things to take with them, if they are going to stay somewhere else.
- Read stories about babies. These days, there are some fantastic books which support children to come to terms with having a new sibling. Reading books like this help to depersonalise the situation, while providing children with an understanding of what they might expect. I partiuarly like one called ‘There’s a House Inside my Mummy’, which is written from the perspective of a young child, with rhymes and beautiful illustrations (you can buy it here https://amzn.to/2X5x8uS).
- Encourage their independence. This is always important, but especially when you are expecting a new arrival. It will help your older child to adjust effectively if they aren’t suddenly expected to do more than they have been once the new baby arrives: children can find this quite overwhelming and unexpected. Honestly, you may think this wont happen to you, but it probably will: almost overnight, your older child goes from being your baby, to seeming so grown up in comparison, and this can affect your expectations of them without you even realising. If there a things you often do for your child but they could try to do for themselves, not only will it encourage them to be more confident, but it will save you precious time and stress when you have a baby to get ready too. (For more information on raising independent children click here)
After the baby is born (new born stage)
- Let them know what a wonderful sibling they are. I used to say things like ‘I knew you’d be a good big brother, and I was right!’. This helps them feel special and like the role of an older sibling is an important one – if they believe this they will almost certainly live up to this. You can back this up by pointing out the times the baby looks content with them or something they are doing, or when they have supported their sibling in some way.
- If possible, have them visit you in the hospital. This introduces your older child to the new baby on neutral ground – so your baby is less likely be perceived as an intrusion of your older child’s personal space.
- Try to keep familiar routines. Children like routine because it makes them feel safe and secure, so where possible, try to keep your usual routines as similar as possible.
- Have them help you ‘learn’ how to do things. Children love to be teachers and share their knowledge with you. I often pretended I had ‘forgotten’ how to do something, and asked my older child to help me. This worked well with anything from nappy changes to rocking baby to sleep, and helped my older child to feel useful and confident in caring for his brothers. They obviously need to know how to do the task first, so be sure to show them a few times first.
- Where possible, try to spend individual time with your older child. Depending on your family situation, this may be challenging (it was for me). I used nap time as a way to reconnect with my older child, by reading a book together or simply playing for 5 minutes without distraction.
- Make sure they have lots of time to relax. Having a new baby around can be quite draining for everyone around. They cry a lot, need a lot of care and attention, and restrict your movements somewhat. Your older child will need time to play and be themselves, instead of the big brother or sister, which will help them appreciate the time with their new sibling more.
- Prepare your older child for the changes your baby will go through. Let’s face it, when babies learn to crawl they can be quite annoying for older siblings: They touch anything in sight (including favourite toys accidently left around), they pull hair and grab faces, and get bored easily. This can be great learning for your older child though, as talking about the changes their younger sibling will go through before they happen gives them time to prepare and accept them. It can also give them a sense of responsibility and care for their younger sibling, as they need to help guide them in the right direction as they grown and learn.
Thankfully, now years down the line, I can confirm my children are incredibly close and their bond is stronger than ever, so in my humble opinion these tips work really effectively.
Good luck with the new addition to your family, and enjoy the journey.
Love, Heather x