© Kati Molin | Dreamstime.com
Children are fascinated by babies. Whose baby is it? What’s its name? Is it a boy or a girl? Many of the same questions are asked when a child meets the sibling of a friend, a new cousin, even a baby being strolled through the park.
When a newborn comes home with mama, children are even more than fascinated. With the new baby comes change that sweeps into every corner of your older child’s life, bringing questions, concerns, and frustrations.
Talk about family changes
But children can handle newness better when they understand the narrative of the story behind it and their role in that story. To help your child ease into the new frontier of life around a baby, parents should have two objectives: keep them informed and engaged in the story, and help them define their new role as the bigger kid. Early in the pregnancy, talk to your older child about what will happen in the months ahead, and the new baby that waits at the end. Talk about how the mother will change in ways they will be able see and ways they won’t, and how some things in the home will likely change, too, with the addition of a new crib or a toddler moving to a big kid bed.
When able, involve your child in trips for baby supplies, or getting the nursery in order. Get their input on names. Giving them an age-appropriate version of the story of baby’s arrival takes much of the uncertainty out of the equation for older kids, and this lets them focus on the excitement of the new sibling.
Get sibs involved
When the new baby finally arrives, your entire family is ready for action. The grown-ups have a reasonable expectation of what’s to come, and if you’ve taken time to talk it through together, your older child has had many questions answered.
Second-time parents know that the rules of parenting change as the needs of baby change, but a new big siblings will be kept on their toes as their jobs change. At first, the role involves a lot of giving mom and baby space, and knowing when to be quiet. Small tasks like diaper fetching and taking empty bottles to the sink will start the older child’s duties as helper, but they will grow as baby does.
Your older child will thrive when given a role to fill and tasks to accomplish, serving as an able cog in the family machine. Talk to them about being an older sibling, and why their help is crucial to bringing up baby. Hearing your words, and trying out their own with you, will give them the language and context to understand and embrace their new position in the family.
No matter how well your family does with adapting to your newest addition, there will be moments of jealousy and anger. Once again, parents can rely on the two-part tactic of supplying a story and defining a role. Talk to your older child about how hard it is to share parents, space, and toys. Greet their anxiety with empathy. Then, bolster them with their big kid status. Remind them of the privilege of being older: the good food, the cool books, the trips out of the house. Tell them how proud you are of the job they’re doing, and how lucky the baby is to have such a cool and smart older sibling.