When a new baby arrives, it’s darn near impossible to maintain a sense of normalcy in your household (and kind of naive if you think you can - been there, done that!). This is an even bigger challenge when you’ve got other children in the mix. So, I thought I’d share a two-part series of posts as we grow (very) close to adding a third to our brood. My first post included ways to stay connected with your older child(ren) when welcoming a newborn. This week, I’m chatting about ways for to help your older child engage with your newborn. Sometimes this comes naturally; other times you can tell subconsciously it’s a tough transition; still other times, they downright hate the baby and all the change it stands for. (Eek!) So, depending on your situation, feel free to adjust any of these tips for your needs! Try getting them involved and assess/adjust accordingly. The biggest way to have your child engage with the new baby is, well, to get them involved. It sounds like a common sense thing, but this can backfire if you don’t keep an eye on how it makes him or her feel. If you get into the habit of relying on your kiddo to get and do things for you and the baby, you may not realize that it makes them feel used, separate from you, and like a servant (even if, in your opinion, you don’t feel like you’re asking them much). So, ask them to do a simple task once in awhile and heap on the praise. Be sure to include them in with the snuggling time (say, watch one of their shows with them or read together while baby naps in your arms) and even ask their opinion (like picking out the baby’s next outfit). Get them their own baby doll. Depending on your child’s age, they may enjoy the opportunity to role play like Mommy and Daddy. They may feel more invested and included if they’re going through the same motions that you are - feeding, putting down for a nap, diapering. Talk to them about how they were as a baby. Noticing similarities and differences between the new baby and how your older child was when they were a baby will hopefully create a bond (and play to a child’s natural tendency to enjoy hearing stories about themselves). Of course, keep it positive and try not to come off sounding comparative - “You never slept through the night, either.” Eek. It may be true, but won’t help the situation.
Allow quiet time without the baby. Giving your older child the space to have their own alone time allows them the ability to be less overwhelmed and possibly even allow them to miss the little one when they’re not together. The time to breathe will essentially give them a break from each other...and don’t we all need that “me time” every now and then? Have them purchase a small, special gift just for baby. Whether it’s a gift for when the baby comes home from the hospital or for Christmas, giving your older child a small amount of money to pick out a lovey or stuffed animal will help them mentally and emotionally connect to the entire experience better. And I LOVED the blankie my siblings bought for me when I was a newborn (and took it everywhere with me like Linus until elementary school). Use Daniel Tiger to work through any issues. There are several episodes dedicated to the welcoming of a new baby and while you don’t necessarily have to watch them with your child (it helps if you do, but it’s not necessary), the songs that accompany them really help transition both you and your child into conversation mode. For example, one in particular sings, “when a baby makes things different, find a way to make things fun.” Using the word “different” doesn’t try to put a super rosy complexion to things and try to lessen your older child’s feelings but doesn’t make it sound like things are awful, then the solution they provide opens up the lines of communication to consider BOTH children’s needs. There are others, but you can Google and view them on YouTube or listen to them on Spotify. Maintain normalcy. I mentioned this in last week’s post, but it’s important to reiterate here. By maintaining a normal routine and structure with your older child, you’re letting them know that, yes, their life is changing in big ways, but not EVERY way. They still have school or daycare, they still have Taco Tuesdays (or whatever you feel you need to maintain in order for their lives not to implode too much). In last week’s post, I also mentioned that having more flexibility - so throwing in the occasional happy surprise, like a trip to a favorite play place or restaurant with a family member, while still keeping up with a routine can continue that sense that they’re still special and remembered and loved. And a happy child who remembers these things is more likely to accept the new baby more openly (generally speaking).
Have you experienced the challenge of bringing a newborn home to an older sibling who went through some growing pains in the process? We’d love to hear how you handled everything - and any tips and tricks - in the comments!