When we arrived home from the hospital with our daughter, Miss M, I was so excited for Mr. J, our oldest son, to meet her. As I sat down on the couch, Mr. J walked over to stand next to me as I held our sleeping, new bundle of joy, and he looked at her, looked up at me, and then began wailing. I mean screaming at the top of his lungs, crocodile tears streaming down his face wailing. With all of my postpartum hormones raging, I immediately began crying as well as all I could think was, “He hates her! He thinks I don’t love him anymore!” I have to laugh a bit now even as I write about this, because my first thoughts couldn’t be farther from the truth. My first two babies born just 15 months 13 days apart are now often inseparable (give or take a few “disagreements”), and have a very special bond and relationship as one will never remember what the world was like without the other one close at hand.
The second time around (or third or fourth or tenth for that matter) when you are coming home with your newborn, you will likely not have quite the worries or anxiety that might have been there the first time. After all, it’s kind of like riding a bike…changing those newborn diapers, remembering how to make the perfect baby burrito (i.e. swaddling), and the wondrous feeling of just 3 straight hours of sleep will all come rushing back to you. But what is different this time? There is a little person hugging your legs who is wondering just who is this new crying, tiny creature that has attached themselves to Mommy. Helping your first born child transition into the role of “Big Sibling” is just as important as preparing your hospital bag, washing those baby clothes, and trying to figure out how to get that car seat installed correctly.
Your first born’s age when the new baby arrives will certainly guide how to approach the preparation for the new arrival. Older children and teens likely will not need much in the way of reassurance that their “normal” is not going to change too much. I think a few discussions about expectations that you have for them as a big sibling will likely suffice. However, there is probably more work to be when it comes to handling the upcoming arrival with toddlers and young children. Here are a few tips that I learned along the way that can hopefully help with this transition in your household.
Movin’ on up- If big brother or sister will be relocating to allow for the new baby’s arrival, then start as early as possible with the room transition. Make a really big deal about them getting a new “big girl” or “big boy” room. Let them help you move their favorite toys, blankets, etc from their old room into their new room so that they understand that the new baby is not taking these things from them.
A present for the Big Sibling- Have a gift at the hospital for the big siblings that is from the new baby, and make sure they know that the new baby got this very special gift for them. When Mr. L, our third child arrived, he had “brought” superhero matchbox cars for Mr. J and princesses for Miss M. To this day, they still tell me that Mr. L gave them those gifts while he was in the hospital “being born.”
Gift stash for home- You will likely have many visitors in the first few weeks who want to come over to shower the new baby with gifts and attention. Having a stash of small “happies” that visitors can give to the big siblings when they come over, can help keep jealousy at bay. The dollar aisle at Target is a great place to grab some of these small, inexpensive gifts that will likely go a long way to keep everyone happy. Also, encourage family members to pay attention to the older sibling first when they walk in rather than immediately migrating to the newborn.
Children are creatures of habit- We all know the comfort that routine brings. For me, if I don’t have my morning cup of coffee, my entire day is off. Well, toddlers and young children are even more creatures of habit and for most of them, routine is their friend. While there is no avoiding a hiccup in routine when a baby joins the family, try and keep as much of their day on track as possible. If they attend school or daycare, let them go (this will also give you a little time to nap, bathe, etc with just one kiddo to worry about). Try to keep dinnertime and bedtime as close to normal as possible. The less ripples that are created in their daily wave pool, the easier that the new addition will slip into the flow of things.
Regression is normal- Especially in toddlers and young children, prepare yourself that there will likely be some regression of behaviors in the first few days to weeks. Whether this means crying a bit more, wanting to be held more often, trying to “steal” pacifiers from the baby, or even backsliding in potty training, these are all very common and normal changes in behavior. If and when this occurs, try not to say things like, “Why are you acting like a baby?” Instead, find “big boy/girl” behaviors that you can praise such as, “I am so proud of you being Mommy’s very big helper and bringing me your baby brother’s pacifier.” Also, try to offer alternate activities during times your big kiddos might be acting out. For example, if your toddler is upset that you are holding the baby to feed them a bottle, have a new, special “big kid cup” filled with their favorite drink and have them sit right next to you as you are feeding the baby.
One-on-one time- Put yourself in your first-born’s shoes for a minute…they did not have to share mom and dad with really anyone else until baby sibling’s arrival. Imagine if your significant other invited their best friend to move into your house to live without discussing this with you first, and then you were expected to be happy about it. Pretty sure that would not go over well! In between feeding your newborn, trying to get your first shower in 3 days, and finding time to sleep for more than 2 hours, try to set aside one-on-one time with your oldest. It can be something as simple as a walk to the park, a quick ice cream date, or reading books before bedtime. Even a few minutes of individual quality time goes a long way.
Having a newborn at home is a time of transition for everyone in the family, and there will probably be growing pains for all involved. But the relationship between siblings is one that is lifelong and can often be one of the most treasured friendships in life. And I am here to tell you that even if the first meeting of siblings isn’t picture perfect, rest assured that with time and a bit of nurturing, you will get to witness the evolution of a very special bond unlike any other.