I distinctly remember the fear I experienced as I considered my son’s transition to being an older brother. He was not quite two when we learned that we were expecting his younger sister, and even as the months passed, I worried that he didn’t have the skills necessary for an easy transition. My oldest was still clingy, distinctly non-independent, and enjoyed being the center of (my) attention. By the time our daughter was born, our son was two-and-a-half, and we were all shocked to see that he handled the transition surprisingly well. In fact, from the moment he first laid eyes on his little sister, his love for her was clear.
Adding a baby to the family is always a little stressful. Add an especially clingy toddler to the mix, and you might think you have a recipe for disaster. I certainly did. But if you’re looking for simple ideas for smoothing the transition to sibling-hood, here are a few tips:
1.) Read, read, read. There are so many books out there that help young children to understand what happens when they gain a little brother or sister. Two of our favorites were Mercer Mayer’s “The New Baby” and Caroline Jayne Church’s “I Am a Big Brother” (There’s a big sister version too.). The former did a very good job of outlining what not to do with a baby (i.e. they’re too little to play with bats and balls), while the latter provided lots of ways for older siblings to interact with their little brother or sister (i.e bringing diapers and being quiet during naps). Even though my son didn’t seem to grasp the connection while I was pregnant, he seemed very quick to figure out how to help me with his little sister.
2.) Talk to your older children about their little brother or sister, and let them talk about him or her (and to him or her) too. We prayed as a family for our baby while I was pregnant, and I regularly talked about her with my son. It’s also helpful to encourage older siblings to talk to your belly while you’re pregnant, or to invite them to feel baby when they move.
3.) Consider using the phrase “our baby” or “your baby” rather than “my baby.” My son really appreciated this practice. By the time his sister was born, there was a definite sense that the baby belonged to us as a family, and not just to my husband and me. As a result, our son was much more inclined to help around the house, as long as he was doing it for “his baby.” Oddly enough, his baby sister regularly wanted him to clean up his toys and to finish his meals. Weird.
4.) Try purchasing small gifts for the new siblings to exchange at the hospital. Before our daughter was born, we purchased a small stuffed animal for our son from his little sister. When he came to visit her in the hospital the first time, he was allowed to pick a small doll from the gift shop for his sister. Their hospital exchange was so sweet, and they both still have their respective gifts.
5.) When older siblings come to visit you in the hospital, have your husband hold the baby so that your arms are free. This was pivotal for my son. As soon as he arrived in the room, he launched himself into my arms, and thankfully, they were free to catch him. Then my husband brought our daughter over, and we were able to experience our first experience as a family of four with great peace and joy.
6.) In the first weeks and months that you’re home with baby, consider naps as “mama-big kid” time. You might take turns having the kids choose books, games, and toys to use while the baby sleeps. Older siblings (especially when there’s only one) can feel neglected when baby arrives home, but a little one-on-one time can make a huge difference. Even if it’s just having a child tag along for a trip to CVS, your older children will appreciate a bit of time alone with you.
Adding a new baby to the family is never easy, but there are a lot of ways that you can help ease the transition for new siblings. Try one or all of these tips, and you might be surprised with a newly independent, not-so-clingy big brother or sister when you bring your newborn home!