So you’re having a baby and your first baby’s going to be a big brother or sister. Here are some ideas to help him or her adjust to the baby and transition from firstborn to older sibling. It’s a big change, especially for those under three.
Start before the baby is born
Talk about babies, read books about babies and visit family, friends or neighbours with a baby, so your older child gets familiar with how little they are, that they cry, feed and sleep a lot. Let your older child help you prepare for your baby’s arrival. Show her how small the baby’s clothes are. Talk about being gentle with babies. Rub your older child’s back, or stroke her head, gently. Show your older child her baby pictures and tell stories of when she was a baby.
Try not to make any big changes, like starting at new childcare, toilet training or moving into a bed close to the baby’s birth. Either do them well beforehand or wait until well afterwards. Having a new baby is enough of a big change and adjustment. Tell him or her they will be the baby’s big brother/sister. Our baby will watch and learn from you. It will be our family’s baby.
After baby is born (In the hospital or first few days).
When your older child first meets the baby cuddle, talk to and give him attention. Then give him a gift ‘from the baby’. Perhaps a doll and pram or other toy you chose for this occasion. Tell him how lucky the baby is to have him as an older brother. Keep a picture of or drawing from your older child near you so he knows he’s special and remembered. Maybe leave small gifts ‘for the big brother’ while you’re in hospital. If you think it’s a good idea, phone and talk to him at home.
At home or when you arrive home
When you arrive home, get someone else to hold the baby so you can pay attention to your older child. Hug and kiss her and reassure her you love her and always will. Remind her of the benefits of being older. Eating ice cream, playing with friends, riding a bike, being able to run, jump and swim. Talk about how the baby will be able to do these things with her one day. When you’re ready to have visitors, get her to greet visitors and introduce ‘our/her’ baby. Ask visitors to speak to her before wanting to see the baby. After all, she was here first.
Allow time and be patient while they get used to the changes
Older children, especially those under 3, can be jealous, regress to baby-like behaviour like wanting a dummy, wet their pants when toilet trained, want to climb into baby’s cot and other temporary negative behaviours. Let her as she can perceive that babies get your time, lap and attention. Validate her feelings. “You’re feeling left out, sad, or angry because our baby is taking up my time". Listen and understand her feelings and words. Ask her if she would like a story, a cuddle, or to watch a video together. When you’re feeding or caring for the baby, have some books, toys, videos, etc. especially for these times. Ask her to help you bath the baby and ask her to talk to, sing to and hold the baby with you close by. Tell her what a wonderful big sister she is and how much the baby loves her when he smiles or looks at her. Get support from family, friends or a postnatal doula so you can spend time with your older child while someone else holds and cares for the baby. Remind her how proud you are of her and that you love her. Your first baby will adjust to the new baby in time and with support from your village or community.