Ten tips Aryan Madhu, 3, couldn’t wait to be a big brother. So when he found out his mom, Anu, was pregnant, he was thrilled.
For this Schaumburg family, welcoming baby brother Arnav in October was smooth sailing—even when he joined his big brother seven weeks early.
But for many older siblings, adjusting to a new baby is tough. Some don’t like the idea of competing for attention. Others wonder why Mommy and Daddy needed another baby at all.
Easing the transition takes work. The key, experts say, is to involve big brothers and sisters in the planning, prepare them for the arrival and be sensitive to their feelings throughout.
"Never assume that this is having no effect on the older child," says Ginny Gemmell, an Addison psychotherapist and social worker.
Here are ways to smooth the transition:
1 Time the news. Some parents wait until the beginning of the third trimester—when mom’s tummy starts to show—to tell younger kids, who don’t yet understand time. Breaking the news too early might make them antsy, and waiting until the last weeks might be too much to handle. But if your kids are older—or eager, like Aryan—sharing the news early allows them to be more involved with doctor’s appointments and baby shopping.
2 Don’t oversell the baby. Saying, "Wow! You’re going to have a new friend to play with" is setting the stage for disappointment. For the first few months, all that baby will do is cry, sleep and occupy his parents’ time.
Instead, say something such as, "Mommy will be feeding the baby a lot, but you can sit next to her for a special story." If you are planning to keep the sex of the baby a surprise, prepare your child accordingly. If she insists on having a sister, for example, weave stories of baby brothers into everyday conversations.
3 Buy big-sibling gifts. Baby presents can make an older sibling feel left out. So keep some inexpensive toys for the older sibling on hand. Susan Harrison, who coordinates sibling preparation classes at Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, suggests a disposable camera, scrapbook supplies, Hershey’s kisses (to remember to kiss the baby) and sticky notes to remind them that siblings stick together.
Madhu had two gifts in her hospital bag—one from Aryan for the baby and vice versa. "A new baby and a new Thomas the Train set really made Aryan’s day," she says.
4 Avoid changes in routine. Whether your older child is moving to a new bed or a new room, do it well before—or after—the baby is born. And instead of focusing on how the baby will change things, discuss what will stay the same, such as bedtime stories.
Gemmell says simple reassurances can help prevent children from regressing to bed-wetting or wanting a bottle. Use phrases such as, "See what a big sister you are—having your milk in a cup." If your child does regress, first rule out any physical problems and then instead of getting upset, emphasize her "big kid" accomplishments.
5 Focus on your older child. "Don’t just say you love them, also show you love them," says Gemmell. Keep pictures of the older sibling on your hospital night stand. Don’t tell her you can’t pick her up because you’re pregnant—blame your backache. At the hospital, bond with your older child before presenting the new baby. Don’t be afraid to find a sitter for the baby so you can have a few hours of one-on-one time with your older child. If you have several kids, communicate with each child individually—they may react differently.
6 Prepare with books and props. Read books such as I’m a Big Sister, by Joanna Cole, together. And rather than give older siblings a doll to practice with as some experts suggest, Gemmell encourages taking the older child to visit other newborns. "Children could easily drop a doll and pick it back up again without understanding the implications," she says. "Interacting with babies under adult supervision is the safer way to go."
7 Practice a delivery day drill. If your child will stay overnight with someone while mom is in the hospital, practice before the baby is born.
Taking your child to see the hospital also helps. "One part of our sibling preparation class is a tour of the newborn nursery to get the children more familiar with the hospital environment," says Harrison.
8 Celebrate your older child’s new role. Before the baby comes, help your child make an "I’m the big brother" button or T-shirt. After the baby arrives, make a family handprint with a plaster of Paris kit to hang on the wall, or use fabric paint and make a quilt.
9 Include your older child—both before and after the baby comes. You can shop for baby clothes, talk about names or give the baby a bath together. Asking your child’s advice, such as "Should she wear the pink outfit or the purple one?" can also calm sibling insecurities.
10 Tailor preparations to your child’s age. A toddler may seem excited at first. But once the novelty wears off, big brother might want to send the baby back to the hospital. So address his fears gently. A few weeks after Arnav came home, Aryan asked, "Will I have to share all my toys?" His parents reassured him, "Don’t worry, he will ask you if he can play with your toys."
Older kids are less blunt. They may be angry that they’ll have to help babysit or change diapers. Gemmell suggests having a family meeting to discuss what parents expect from older siblings.
Preparing a big brother or sister for a new baby does take work. But it’s worth it, Madhu says. "At first, I [felt] Aryan was more possessive about me than the baby," she says. But now every time Arnav cries, the 3-year-old big brother comes rushing to the rescue.
Kiran Ansari is a writer living in Roselle. She prepared her 4-year-old son, Yusuf, for a new sibling last April.