You’re pregnant again! Congratulations! And if you’re like a lot of parents, you might be wondering how to prepare your older child for a new baby.
Well, you’re in luck! LinnieLou spoke with Indianapolis-based parenting coach Michelle Gambs to get the inside scoop on how to prepare kids for the arrival of a new sibling.
Keep reading to learn about the challenges associated with bringing a new baby home, how to prepare your older child for a little brother or sister, and how to address behavior problems after your baby is born.
Siblings Are a Gift
First things first: Michelle says that a sibling is one of the best gifts you can give your children.
“Let’s start with the truth that one of the greatest gifts that you can give your child is a sibling,” she said. “Someone who travels with them through childhood knowing and understanding what it’s like to be YOUR kid! A playmate, hopefully someday a friend, someone who they get to practice life skills with - sharing, conflict, patience, adventures, imagination. That is a gift.”
Before we jump into Michelle’s expert advice, she said it’s important to understand a child’s five basic needs:
- To give and receive love
- To feel special, valued, and important
- The permission to experiment and explore
Michelle said “belonging” is where the rubber hits the road as it relates to introducing a new sibling.
Why? Because before the sibling arrives, a child knows where he or she fits in within the family.
“They knew they were the only child, or they knew they were the youngest child. What they did not know is what it feels like to get ‘dethroned’ and that is what happens to them,” Michelle said. “They were on a throne, and now someone else occupies that throne and the child, then, is shopping for a new way to belong.”
How to Prepare Your Child for a New Baby
So how can you prepare your child for his or her new throne?
“Include them in decision making,” she said.
Michelle recommended letting your child help organize the nursery, decide where things go, or pick out the new baby’s clothes.
Little decisions can make your child feel included and help with their sense of belonging, she said.
What to Expect After Baby Arrives
So, if your child’s sense of belonging has been disrupted, what can you expect?
Michelle said children either react in appropriate or inappropriate ways in order to fulfill their sense of belonging.
“One option is that they can please, be helpful, and almost behave like a parent to the newborn sibling,” Michelle said.
On the flip side, children can regress after the baby arrives. “Regression makes sense, because what they are witnessing is the baby getting attention,” Michelle said. “They think, ‘Maybe I should revert backwards in order to get some of the attention that my little brother or sister is getting.’”
Regression can look like:
- Potty accidents
- Bedtime battles
- Separation anxiety
- Wanting a bottle
- Wanting to be held like a baby
What To Do If Your Child Regresses
Regressions are natural and normal! But there are ways to help your child navigate this unchartered territory.
Understand and Allow Emotions
Michelle said to make the process easier on your child, allow them to have any and all emotions.
She said even though it's not uncommon for children to express dislike for their new sibling, many parents get very upset when they hear things like, “I hate my brother. Take him back.”
“We want our kids to like each other. We want them to love each other. But ultimately that is up to these kids to navigate for themselves. They do not need to be excited or love this new person. Give them time and space. It will come.”
So, instead of correcting or dismissing their feelings, allow them and try to understand them.
She advised using statements such as:
- “That makes sense that you wouldn’t like your brother. He takes up a lot of our time and we used to have all of that for you!”
- “Yes, if you want to help get the diaper (bottle, toy) that would be great. And it’s not your job to take care of Baby Sister; that’s my job.”
- “Now that baby brother is sleeping, I would love to spend some time with just you. I miss spending time with you.”
Invest in One on One Time
Michelle notes that the “dethroned” child needs intentional one on one time now more than ever.
Michelle recognized, though, that having a newborn is exhausting.
“... This is about quality over quantity. If you can be fully present and all-in for a few activities, very intentionally, that can go a long way,” she said.
Here are a few examples of one-on-one quality time:
- Outdoor play
- Pretend play
Above all, Michelle noted that moms should release any guilt they feel. “It’s full, quality attention, even for 5 minutes,” she said. “The intention is quality over quantity. So let go of the guilt. You will be making a deposit into their little love cup that they can sip on while you are busy.”
Bringing a new baby home can be an overwhelming experience for the entire family, but there are a few ways to help your older child adjust to this exciting time.
Parenting expert Michelle Gambs recommends preparing in advance by letting your older child help with preparations.
If behavior challenges arise after the new baby is born, Michelle recommends:
- Allowing and understanding his/her emotions
- Spending one-on-one time - even if it’s just for five minutes at a time - with him/her.
So tell us: what are your big concerns about introducing a new sibling to your family? Did you find this blog post helpful? Let us know in the comment section!