I’ve always felt a little sad for my youngest child when I’m about to have another baby. Being the youngest has always been their identity. When you think of this changing for them, it’s sad. But it doesn’t have to be! As a mother of four, I think the best gift you can give your child is a sibling! However, helping them adjust to becoming a big brother or sister can be hard.
Preparing Your Child for the Role of Big Brother or Sister
Here are some of my favorite tips for helping the adjustment go as smoothly as possible!
Preparing Them During Pregnancy to Be a Big Brother or Sister
1. Use intentional language regarding the sibling relationship (beforehand).
As a licensed marriage and family therapist, I think this is the most important thing you can do in preparing a sibling for a baby! In the months leading up to the baby’s birth (and after), talk about the baby through the siblings’ relationship instead of the relationship between mom and baby. This eliminates a need for competition over the mother and changes the focus to the importance of being a big sister or big brother.
For example, “Instead of saying, “Mommy is going to have a new baby.” Try saying, “You are going to have a little baby sister.” Or instead of saying, “Mommy is so excited for the new baby to get here.” Try saying, “Your new brother is so excited to get here and have you hold him. He loves you so much.” This may seem like a small and insignificant wording change, but I promise you, it makes a huge impact. It emphasizes the fun of the new sibling relationship versus the fact that the new baby will take up time with mom.
2. Read books that teach them about becoming a big brother or sister.
There are many books out there about becoming a big brother or sister. My top choice is “I’m a Big Brother” and “I’m a Big Sister” by Joanna Cole because you personalize the book to the sex of your child. This book teaches them all they need to know about their big brother or sister roles from the older sibling’s perspective. Other books to consider are “My New Baby” by Rachel Fuller and “The New Baby” by Mercer Mayer.
3. Talk it through — personalize your experience with them as a baby.
As adults, we know it’s easier to lower anxiety during transitions when we know before an event occurs versus after. Who wants to go into a job interview but not know what the new job entails? Becoming a big sibling is kind of like that, too. The more detailed information you give them about babies, the more natural it will feel when the baby arrives. Saying little things like, “When your little brother gets here, we may have to change his diaper all the time! Like all of the time. I remember one day when I changed your diaper 15 times.” This does two things. It helps prepare them and reminds them that you did all the same stuff with them, which helps them not feel excluded. It normalizes the care babies require, the same care you gave them!
Preparing Them in the Hospital to Be a Big Brother or Sister
1. Meet them in the hallway.
Instead of letting big sibling(s) walk into the room and see mommy holding their new baby brother or sister, try meeting them in the hallway first (if you can get up and walk). That way, they see they still have YOU and that baby has not robbed them of you. Then, walk them into the room and say, “Baby brother has been waiting to meet you all day!! He can’t wait for you to hold him.” If they are super possessive of you, let Dad be in charge of that first interaction and stand back. This again puts the focus on their relationship.
2. Have other relatives not react to baby.
When a sibling is first in the room, ensure no one else is gawking over the baby. Let the focus remain between big brother or sister and little one. If anything, let the emphasis be on the older sibling. Coach other relatives to comment on how loving the older sibling is or how lucky the little sibling is to have them as their brother or sister. Again, eliminate the need for competition. And if they’re old enough, you can have them introduce the new baby to other relatives. “Grandma, this is Peyton.” This is a great way to empower them as a big sibling from the start.
3. Don’t set too many limits (at first).
This is so important, and one of the things I feel sabotages many transitions from going smoothly. When the baby first arrives, try not to set too many limits for the bigger sibling. I think the best way to guarantee an older sibling will feel jealous is to suddenly feel the new baby is making them get into trouble. Of course, they have to know they cannot throw their new sibling across the room, but they will feel better if you aren’t immediately correcting them about every little thing from the second they meet. Prep them about holding and touching a baby before they do so. Steer clear of “Don’t touch the baby’s mouth.” Instead, say, “Baby sister likes soft touches on her cheek or head. Look at how happy she is when you touch her so sweetly.”
4. Have new baby brother or sister get them a present.
This is pretty common, but if you haven’t heard of it, have the new baby get their older sibling a gift and have it waiting in the hospital room for the older sibling. This is a simple and easy way to start things on the right foot! Who wouldn’t love a sibling that brings you your favorite Lego Set or Barbie?
Preparing Them Once You Arrive at Home to Be a Big Brother or Sister
1. Make them your helper.
Once you arrive home, have the new sibling be your helper. And make them feel so special to be old enough to do things their little sibling cannot do. “Wow, thank you for getting Mommy some water. You are so helpful and grown-up. I don’t know what Mommy would do without you! Little sister just lays there, but you can sit and talk with Mommy, and that is so fun.”
2. Take time out with them once baby arrives.
Carve out time to be with just big sibling after baby comes. Take them somewhere for a few hours. Maybe to the park. Or a quick trip to the store. Or if you aren’t feeling up to getting out, do an activity with them. A puzzle, Legos, Barbies…even if the amount of time you can give them is short, if it is quality, it will make them feel connected to you and prioritized. And this will help the whole transition go more smoothly!
3. Don’t overreact to meltdowns after baby’s arrival.
Most likely — even with the best-behaved children — they will begin having more meltdowns after the birth of a baby sibling. They won’t necessarily act out toward their sibling, but they will likely show more emotion toward you. When this happens, do not panic. Even if it lasts six weeks, do not panic! This is normal. This is normal. This is normal. And it will pass. No matter how much they love their sibling, it is a huge adjustment! And just like you are adjusting to sleep deprivation, they are also adjusting. So give them grace, love, and extra reassurance (not discipline). And know they will return to normal soon.