How To Help Older Siblings Bond With a New Baby
- Janay Peters
- Written By
- Julia Pelly
- Involve your big kid in baby prep.
Having a baby usually comes with a lot of preparation. When you involve your oldest in this exciting work, they’ll have time to settle into the idea of having a sibling and their upcoming role as a big sister or big brother. “Being able to pick out a book, toy, or outfit for the baby or having the chance to participate in decorating the baby’s space can help older siblings to feel like they’re an important part of the big change that’s happening in their family.” Says Felder, “This can help shift their experience of this change from feeling like something that’s happening to them to something that’s happening with them.”
- Talk about the specifics of caring for a baby before their arrival.
While most parents talk with their toddler or preschooler about the fun parts of having a baby sibling, they often forget to mention what day-to-day care the baby will need. Talking with your big kid about the tasks you’ll be doing a lot, like changing diapers or nursing, and, when possible showing them how it’s done can help this big shift feel more normal. Show them the diapers, sling, changing table, and bassinet crib –– and let them ask any questions they may have.
- Bring on the books.
There’s no time like the present to stock your bookshelves. Children love to learn about all sorts of things through stories, and the topic of becoming a sibling is no exception. “I suggest reading books about being a big sibling early and regularly,” Says Felder. “Books can also be a springboard for conversations about what it’ll be like to be a big sibling and can provide an opportunity for children to explore and express their feelings about their growing family.”
- Keep 1-1 time a top priority
Nothing makes a kid feel more loved than one-on-one time. So consider adding some time into your routine when you’re still pregnant, which will remain constant once the baby arrives. “These special times to connect don’t have to be long periods of time for a toddler or preschooler,” says Felder, “5-10 minutes of your focused attention can help to strengthen your connection and fill their emotional cup.” Whether it’s coloring together at the breakfast table, a lego play session before dinner, or a snuggled-up bedtime story, choose a time that works for your family and make sure it happens every day.
- Cue the gift exchange.
There’s nothing more exciting for a preschooler than a nicely wrapped present. Choosing a gift for the baby, and receiving one from the baby, can go a long way towards making the initial transition a little smoother. The gifts don’t have to be anything fancy or expensive. It’s really the act of exchanging them that makes an impact.
- Let your big kid be your biggest helper.
Young children are natural helpers and love doing things that make their parents happy. So allowing and encouraging your older child to help with the baby can ease the transition of bringing their new sibling home. “Creating opportunities for your older child to help with the baby in meaningful ways can help to build their connection,” Says Felder, “Talk with your older child about age-appropriate jobs that they can have to help take care of the baby.” Depending on their age and interests, that might include things like holding and rocking the baby, gathering supplies, choosing the baby’s outfit or helping change their diaper, or even simply cuddling up next to the baby and singing to them as they nurse.
Becoming a family of four (or more) is a big change for everyone. So be gentle with yourself and your older child as you all adjust to having a baby at home. And, as with everything, patience is key. “As with any new relationship, it can take time for two people to get comfortable with one another and to develop a bond” Says Felder, “I encourage parents to be patient as their children get to know one another.”
Julia Pelly, MPH
Julia Pelly, MPH, is a writer, birth and postpartum doula, La Leche League leader, and founder of Your Postpartum Plan. As an expert in maternal and child health, she helps parents plan and prepare for all the big things parenthood will ask of them. Julia lives in North Carolina with her partner and four young children.