So, with #3 on the way, I have already started preparing 3 year old Little E for her new role as big sister. She is really excited about the arrival of the new baby!
I have to say that in the grand scheme of things, J and Little E have a very loving sibling relationship and J has been a wonderful big brother to Little E, ever since the first day they met. J was 3 years old at the time, and I still remember the look on his face as he held Little E for the first time, and how gently he stroked her sleeping face.
Part of this is due to J’s gentle and compassionate nature, and the other part (I like to think) is the due to the way that we prepared him to receive a little sister into his life. I am really hoping that Little E will have the same reaction to Baby#3, which is why I am employing the same strategies that I used with J!
Debs G’s Guide to Preparing a Child For a New Sibling
1. Instill a sense of ownership into your child from the get-go: Tell your child that you are growing a baby just for them. This way, the baby itself becomes a special gift to your child. The minute I told J and Little E that I was growing a baby for them to be their special little brother or sister, you could see on their faces a sense of wonder and pride. From then on, whenever they talked about the new baby, they referred to it as ‘My Baby’, not ‘Mummy’s baby’.
2. Get them to interact with the baby as much as is possible: This helps them to begin to feel attached to the baby and understand that the baby is a whole new person. It’s quite difficult for children to grasp the concept that there is a live baby growing in mum’s womb so one thing I like to do is get them to feel the baby’s movements once they start becoming more pronounced and tell them that the baby is responding to their voice and touch. “Do you feel that? Baby is trying to give you a high five!” When Little E was born, it only took the sound of J’s voice to help her calm down when she was fussing! Imagine how J felt when he realised how much she was responding to him.
3. Involve them in prenatal care and preparations: This helps them develop more concrete picture of a living baby in their minds and also gives them an idea about how much care goes into a baby even before it is born. Get the kids involved as you wash and sort all the baby gear or prepare the nursery with toys and furniture, maybe even allowing them to help choose new things for the little one. Encourage your child to select handmedowns from their own collection of toys to give to their new sibling.
Debs G Recommends: Bring the kids with you when you visit the obstetrician for the detailed prenatal scan around 20 weeks (when you find out the baby’s gender). This way they get to listen to the baby’s heartbeat and see the baby moving around on the monitor, and the baby is large enough by then to have easily identifiable body parts. When I brought Little E to my scan, she was watching so intently as the sonographer showed us the baby’s head, arms and legs that she was the FIRST person to identify the Baby #3’s gender! That was a proud moment for her!
4. Manage their expectations by introducing them to newborns and babies: This will give them some idea about what to expect. Both J and Little E had the impression that their new sibling would automatically be big enough to play with them straight away and they would be so disappointed if I let them continue thinking that way! So I brought them with me to visit friends and relatives with tiny babies. (It’s best if you bring them with you to the hospital when visiting newborns) I like to emphasise a babies’ utter helplessness, dependance on parents and siblings, and inability to communicate apart from crying.
Debs G Recommends: If you don’t have any access to any real live tiny babies, you can always show them some videos about babies. There are plenty of those around on Youtube. I personally like to show the kids an indie film that I discovered around the time I was expecting Little E. The film is called ‘(Everybody Loves) Babies’ and follows the development of four babies from around the world. This beautiful, funny film covers everything that you could possibly expect from a new baby – premature birth, breastfeeding, babywearing, weaning, changing and changing table accidents…even negative actions of older siblings (which makes for a good opportunity to tell your child what NOT to do!). Even the watching the trailer with your kids is good enough!
5. Show them photos and videos of themselves as babies and talk about the role of an older sibling as the baby’s special guardian: This also helps them to relate to the baby as they realise that they themselves were helpless babies once, and it also develops their ‘older sibling’ mentality as they figure out that there are many things they can do now which a newborn cannot do. This is also a good opportunity to talk about the different ways that they can help you when the baby is born – for example, they can become more independent in dressing/feeding/tidying so that you can spend more time helping the baby or they can even assist you in the baby’s care.
6. Acknowledge your child’s feelings: It’s natural for children to feel some anxiety and apprehension which they may not be able to articulate. They may even feel negatively about the baby, especially when they see how pregnancy makes you more tired and less mobile than usual. If your child is old enough to talk about their negative feelings towards the baby, it is important not to contradict them or force them into expressing a positive attitude. Acknowledge their feelings by agreeing with them (maybe even sharing with them that you feel a little scared and anxious too), then give them lots of cuddles and reassurance. Praise them to high heavens when they display excitement or positive attitudes towards the new baby and comment on what a wonderful big brother or sister they will make and how fortunate the baby will be to have them as an older sibling! It’s important for them to understand that the new baby is not going to replace them. I tend to emphasise the utter helplessness of the baby, and that the baby needs to be carried everywhere, so that they are prepared to see me holding and cuddling the baby often.