Congratulations! You’re expecting a new baby and that means your first baby is getting a promotion to Big Sibling. With that transition, your family will welcome so much excitement and joy.
In our experience as sibling and postpartum doulas, we also know that this transition can sometimes come with a little stress and anxiety about how your older child may adjust to their new baby. That’s where we can help!
We’ve got a few tips that may help engage your older child from before your newborn is born, and help ease the transition into their important new role:
1. Look at photos of your older child(ren) as newborns.
Let's be honest. Newborns are so weird looking. They have big heads, sometimes they're bald, and have flakey skin. And, what is the deal with that belly button?
Looking at photos of newborns, particularly photos of themselves as babies helps Big Siblings normalize those uniquely newborn features.
2. Read books about babies. Lots of books.
Start with a favorite of ours, Everywhere Babies, by Susan Myers, which does an excellent job of talking through all the ways babies interact with the world around them. Then move on to books about becoming a big sibling or about ways to play with a newborn (another favorite of ours is Mercer Mayer's The New Baby).
Have a conversation after each book about things of interest like the ways babies are carried, fed, and played with and how big siblings can be a part of these things.
3. Go slow and let the love bloom in it's own time
Here’s the thing… Your older child doesn’t really know this baby, yet. Yes, they know of them. They know about babies in general. They've seen babies out around town, and might have friends with babies. But this particular tiny human? A total stranger. Yes, some day, they will absolutely eventually love each other dearly. But right now? They’re just getting to know one another.
Honor where this relationship is at right now, and know that they’ll get there soon!
4. Name and validate those big feelings. (And there will be BIG feelings.)
Getting a new baby at home is a BIG, huge change for most siblings, especially if your family is going from one child to two. Up until this point, your oldest child has been the king of their own kingdom; every need and request, met with pleasure and haste. That may not be reality anymore and it will absolutely cause big (read: loud) frustrations.
You might say things like, "You feel very frustrated right now that you have to wait. Your baby sister is so little, that I have to feed her first, and you are a big girl now, so Mama knows that you can be patient." or "You are very angry that Mama can't get your snack right this second, but I will get it as soon as your baby brother is settled."
Honor these feelings. Validate those emotions. You might not be able to change anything about the sources of their frustrations; but you can show your older children that they are heard and seen.
5. Dedicate quality time just for them.
After a new baby arrives, you’ll be flooded with visitors and family members. Some will offer to entertain your older children, and that’s so great. It will give you a chance to care for your newborn and focus on your own recovery from birth. But, you also might utilize their presence and take advantage of their offers to hold your newborn, and spend that time giving your older child one-on-one attention.
Do something special and just for them. Go out to lunch, get a hot chocolate together, or just sit in the living room floor and play trains while the baby naps!
And remember, one of the most favorite parts of our jobs as postpartum doulas is to tend to the “behind the scenes” things that make your household run, giving you time for you to reconnect with your older children and bond with your newborn.
Being a parent to two or more children is a big adjustment for everyone. We’re here to help. Reach out anytime!
(And don't forget about our Becoming Big Siblings Class, that is a fun, interactive resource for families welcoming subsequent children, taught by experienced postpartum and sibling doula, Ashley Collins.)