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 Arnav was smooth sailing—even when he arrived seven weeks early.
But for many older siblings, adjusting to a new baby is tough. 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.
"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 ease the transition:
Time the news. Some parents wait until the third trimester—when mom’s tummy starts to show—to tell younger kids, who don’t understand time. Breaking the news too early might make them antsy, and waiting until the last weeks might be too intense. If your kids are older—or eager, like Aryan—sharing the news early allows them to be more involved.
Don’t oversell the baby. Saying, "Wow—you’re going to have a new friend to play with" sets the stage for disappointment. For several months, all the baby will do is cry and sleep. 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 plan to keep the baby’s gender a surprise, prepare your child accordingly. If she insists on having a sister, for example, weave stories of brothers into conversations.
Buy big-sibling gifts. Baby presents can make an older sibling feel left out. So keep 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.
Avoid changes in routine. If your older child is moving to a new bed or a new room, do it well before—or after—the baby is born. Instead of focusing on how the baby will change things, discuss what will stay the same, such as bedtime stories.
Gemmell says reassurances can help prevent children from regressing to bed-wetting. 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. Then, instead of getting upset, emphasize "big kid" accomplishments.
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 baby. Find a sitter for the baby so you can have one-on-one time with your older child. If you have several kids, communicate with each child individually.
Prepare with books and props. Read books such as I’m a Big Sister, by Joanna Cole, together. 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."
Practice a delivery day drill. If your child will stay overnight with someone during delivery, practice before the baby is born.
Seeing 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.
Celebrate your older child’s new role. Before the baby comes, make an "I’m the big brother" button or T-shirt together. After the baby arrives, make a family handprint with a plaster of Paris kit, or use fabric paint and make a quilt.
Include your older child. Shop for baby clothes, talk about names or give the baby a bath together. Ask your child’s advice, such as, "Should she wear the pink outfit or the purple one?"
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 about having to babysit or change diapers. Gemmell suggests meeting as a family to discuss expectations.
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 son, Yusuf, now 4 ½, for a new sibling in April 2005. Kiran’s daughter Hana is now 16 months old.
This is an updated version of a story that originally ran in Chicago Parent.
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