Preparing Children for a New Baby
Milla & Monty 2009 strict copyright Kat.
With the arrival of February I am suddenly aware that we are expecting a new member of the family to join us next month. While I may still need to dig the baby grows and nappies out of the loft to be washed let alone the rest of my to do list there is one piece of preparation I have been working on for a few months: getting my children ready to welcome their sibling. I’ll admit to worrying about how a sibling would impact on Milla when I was expecting my second child. This time I’m feeling more confident that the transition will be a pleasant one and we will survive.
Here are my tips for preparing a child for life with a newborn which have been picked up from friends, my wonderful NCT birth preparation teacher and through trial and error.
Before the baby arrives:
- Talk about babies and what they do. It may seem obvious but having repetitive conversations about newborn activities helps build a child’s expectations. Ours are pretty simple; babies say ‘maaaaaa’, babies like to drink milk for a long time, they haven’t learned to wait etc
- If you have a friend with a newborn see if they’ll let you hang out with them so your child gets an idea of what to expect.
- Involve your child in preparations as much as possible. Let them help sort baby clothes, ask them where they think the crib should go, let them choose which baby toys the baby can play with and generally include them in what you are doing.
- Get the baby gear out ahead of their arrival. It will help your child imagine where the baby fits in and won’t be a big shock of new equipment when the baby arrives.
- Talk about what will happen when the baby is ready to come out. Having a plan is a great way for them to feel secure so tell them who will look after them, where you will go, what funny noises Mama might make, where they will meet the baby and anything else which they can expect. Again, repetition of this plan will help make it concrete.
- Create a ‘milk box’. Get a shoe box and decorate it together. This then becomes a milk box which only comes out when the baby is drinking its milk. You don’t have to buy lots of new toys to put in the box but have a few things which can keep your older child/ren occupied while you take time to feed the baby. Ideas include: natural objects like pine cones, fuzzy felt, cotton reels, small dolls, lacing cards, puzzles or building blocks – remember to make sure they can’t do any damage while you’re busy so no play dough or pens! Our milk box was really useful in the first month or so until Milla got used to the feeding routine.
- Go out together and let them choose a gift for the baby after all, it is the baby’s birthday! Wrap it together and put it in a safe place so they can give it to the baby when they first meet. Likewise, your baby might want to bring a gift to say hello to their new sibling/s. Ours is bringing one of these each for Milla and Monty – shh!
- Their emotions are valid: listen to them and give them space to express all of their feelings about the baby both before and after arrival. They may only just be learning to deal with emotion and helping them be heard will help them come to terms with how they feel.
Once the baby arrives:
- The first meeting is a precious moment. Remember that your child might well be more interested in seeing you initially. Make sure there are no physical barriers between you and that they get their hugs and kisses first. Let them set the pace and terms of this first meet, pushing them into doing something they don’t want to do may not end well.
- Let them help out if they want to. Milla loved helping with nappy changing, she would choose the new nappy them stroke his head while I changed him. She also liked to tuck him in when he was in his moses basket and Mama ‘forgot’ the blanket. Embracing this nurturing impulse they have will not only empower them but create a bond between siblings from early on. If they have simple tasks which are safe to carry out everyone is a winner.
- Have boundaries about what the child can do with the baby. For example: they do not pick up the baby or play with the baby when it is in its moses basket. Keep boundaries as simple as possible so they are easy to remember and follow.
- Ask them what the baby wants or is thinking. This will help them tune in to the baby’s needs and also involve your child.
- Make the baby wait! Your child will have to do a lot of waiting because babies have not learned to wait yet. Make sure when you are doing something for your child that you tell the baby they need to wait as it is not their turn right now. I’m not suggesting you do this while they are screaming the house down but while they are contented just to make the point.
- Rules apply to everyone. Young children don’t find it easy to distinguish the difference between willfully breaking rules and being a baby. If your child is upset that the baby has just bashed them over the head with a flailing arm tell the baby gently, ‘It’s not ok to hit, we use gentle hands.’ You and I know this makes no difference to the baby but it will make a difference to your child.
- Create a family spirit. Let them be a team when you are playing a game, talk about who loves each other, make time to have family days.
- Carve out time for your older children. It is easy for time with the older children to slip into being your partner’s role in the first few months. Let Papa and the baby have some snuggles while you do something special with your older children. It doesn’t have to take long, a quick batch of cookies, a walk to the park or some cuddly reading time, but it will do you all the world of good.
These ideas are by no means exhaustive and I would be very interested to hear what has worked for you. If you have a top tip leave us a comment.