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Preparing for a New Sibling

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Imagine if your husband came home to you today and said this...

"Guess what, honey? I have great news that I am so excited to share with you! I'm getting a new wife!  Don't worry, I'll still love you just the same, and we'll still do lots of fun stuff together, but now we'll have someone else to share all that fun with us.  She's not coming for about 9 months, so you'll get to help me get the house all ready for her. You can go shopping with me to buy her gifts and help me get her room ready. Won't that be fun?"

Umm....yeah...I'd be less than thrilled. In fact, he'd be lucky if he even got to finish the second sentence! 

When I was expecting my second, a friend at work shared this little gem with me as I told her about my uncertainty as to how my 2.5 year old daughter would react to having a new baby in the home.  My response to her story? "You've got a point there!"  It's so true! We have only pure elation and joy when we find out we are expecting a child, and we expect our other children to react with that same enthusiasm.  But what this story made me realize is, even if our first child is as excited as we are, s/he can't help but feel a little of that "Hey! What about me?" reaction. It's normal. It's healthy. They might not express the jealousy with words, or even with their actions, but it's somewhere deep inside, and as parents it is our responsibility to prepare for it and address it.

Today I'm sharing with you a few things that helped us as we prepared our daughter for her new baby sister.  Many of these tips are a result of my background in early childhood development and what we know to be true about the emotional and cognitive stages in young children.


photo credit: Sunbeam Photography


Tip #1: Use children's books - but think about the message!

Books are a wonderful way to introduce new concepts or teach lessons to your chlid.  BUT - before you head to and purchase every book with the words "big brother" or "big sister" in the title, think about the "take away" you are looking for.  As I was shopping for these types of books, I noticed most had a similar theme - Older child doesn't like new baby. Older child does mean things to new baby. Older child says bad things about new baby. Older child learns to love new baby. While this storyline might be helpful for those dealing with an older child that is feeling negatively about his/her sibling, my daughter had not expressed any concerns or negativity. So, I knew I did not want to introduce that idea to her.  In her little 2.5 year old mind, you loved your baby sister and took care of her, so why would I provide her with examples that proved otherwise?  I had to think about what I really wanted her to take away from these stories. What could she learn that would help her through this change in our family? The two books she and I loved most were:

I'm a Big Sister by Joanna Cole (there is also a big brother version) -

The New Baby by Mercer Mayer

There are MANY, MANY books written about new babies, big brothers, and big sisters. Just be sure to think about why you are using the book and what you want to teach your child as a result of sharing that story with them.

Tip #2: Have siblings exchange a special gift at the hospital.

This was a tip shared with me by a friend who had her second just before I did.  In the weeks leading up to her delivery, she thought about something that her daughter REALLY wanted and couldn't have. (For her, it was a special doll from Pottery Barn Kids that she begged for at the mall.)  My friend purchased the doll and brought it to the hospital.  When "big sister" arrived, the new baby was there waiting with the doll for her!  We did similar with my daughter and she is still in awe that her little baby sister could know how much she wanted a Beauty & the Beast figurine.  (Obviously this will only work with younger children who don't realize that a baby can't go shopping in-utero! ;)

Tip #3:  Find some new friends!

Okay, not really... well...sort of...  We were fortunate that three of my daughter's closest friends all welcomed "little sisters" to their familiies in the months leading up to our own new addition.  To my daughter, having a baby sister was "the cool thing to do." (Nothing like toddler peer pressure, right?) All her little friends brought their baby sisters to playdates and parties, and she wanted one, too!  Having these examples helped to make something very abstract a little more concrete. (Read more about the concrete thinking of toddlers here.) When I talked about our new baby, I could use friends' babies as an example.  "When your baby sister comes, you can give her a bottle, just like Ashley gives one to her sister."  If you have any friends who have recently had a baby, it may be helpful to invite them over and let your child see siblings in action!

Tip #4: Plan for big sibling's arrival at the hospital.

If a family member or friend will be bringing your first child to the hospital to see you and meet baby, think about how this is going to happen.  Again, think about that "I'm getting a 2nd wife!" scenario.  This could be a very emotionally overwhelming experience for your chlid to walk into a room and meet his/her little sibling for the first time, especially if s/he's gone a few days without seeing you or dad and is feeling particularly vulnerable. It may be helpful to have your child be the one to get the baby.  Send the baby to the nursery (if available) right before s/he arrives. Then, let your older child be the one to go down (with an adult) and wheel the baby into the room.  This will allow your child to feel like  s/he is in control of the situation, and that this is not something that is being done to him/her, but rather something s/he is a part of.  Seeing mommy holding the new baby could be very overwhelming, so it may also be helpful to have someone else hold the baby while big brother/sister and Mommy get some cuddle time first.   Allowing your older child choices, rather than forcing the situation: "Would you like to see the new baby?" or "Would you like to put this hat on the baby?" etc. will boost his/her confidence in an unfamiliar situation.  Again, this is a great time to share those special gifts. We had my daughter pick out anything she wanted for her new sister in the hospital gift shop. She was so excited to share the gift she had chosen, and it really made her feel like she was a part of the excitement, too! (The book, "The New Baby" (see tip #1) also helped, as it mentions that a new baby will grab and hold your finger, so my daughter was very excited to try this when she met her sister!")

Tip #5: Find special one-on-one time with your first child.

This is important both before the new baby arrives and after. I would recommend a Mommy-Child date and a Daddy-Child date before the birth.  Let your child choose what s/he wants to do and make it a really special outing that they will remember. Escape from all the talk of baby stuff for a while and just enjoy each other's company.  The same is true for after the baby arrives. No matter how much your child ADORES his/her new sibling, it's important to give that one-on-one time, too!  (Although, I went out of my way to make sure I could take my daughter to a storytime at the library without the baby last week, and then she cried that she wanted her sister to come! You can't win!)

These five tips are just a small sampling of what worked for us as we transitioned from a family of three to a family of four.  My daughter loves her new baby sister, but I can tell she's also trying to figure out her changing role in our family and how to share attention with another (very needy) human being! So... what's worked for you? Do you have any tips to share with our our readers? Please post below! I'd love to read them!

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