I’ve had several requests to share my thoughts on the subject of preparing older siblings for the arrival of new siblings. And, while I don’t consider myself to be an expert on the subject (since I’ve only gone through this once), there are things that I would do all over again and others I would never repeat. I’ll share those in this post.
My firstborn was 2 and a half when his baby brother joined our family, so perhaps very little of this will pertain to young toddlers and infants who are welcoming a new sibling. But hopefully this will still prove useful to many of you.
My husband and I were very intentional about how we approached the before phase and the soon after phase of this monumental change in our little family, especially with consideration for big brother (it felt drastic enough for two adults to experience such a change, so we assumed there could be a few bumps in the road with a child experiencing this, and we wanted to be ready for them). But, as is usually the case with parenting, nothing fully prepares you. So a lot of this was learned in the heat of battle. The same will be true for you. No matter what help I can offer, and how ready it makes you feel, every parent has to just stay in tune to their kids and their situations and roll with the punches. But for what it’s worth…
The first and most important thing I’d advise, because I think it made the most dramatic difference, is to STAY POSITIVE. This is something we were committed to from the beginning, and I think it had the biggest impact in fostering good vibes in big brother for the arrival of little brother. This is especially significant if you happen to have a highly emotive and sensitive child (which WE DO!). Kids pick up on how we feel about things, and can tend to mimic our responses, but this is even more true of emotionally sensitive kids.
So watch your tone and your words regarding the new baby. Try to avoid being overly cynical and unhappy about the changes that having a new baby will bring. We all need to vent from time to time, but try to do so privately as much as possible. If they do overhear you discussing some of the downsides of a new baby, make sure to balance it out with something positive (“I’m not going to like how little sleep I’ll be getting after the baby gets here,” your preschooler overhears you venting to a friend, so you might add, “but I can’t wait to finally have her here with us!”). You’ll benefit from this upbeat attitude as well.
As much as possible, my husband and I laced all of our talk of the new brother with positivity, and if anyone else tried to put a negative spin on it in the presence of our impressionable little guy (“Are you worried about how your son will react?” “Are you scared about labor?” “What are you dreading the most?”), we’d nip it in the bud as quickly as possible and change the subject. As a result, our firstborn for the most part walked into it all with this feeling that a new brother was generally a good thing… And then the baby actually got here… And that’s a whole other story!
The other thing we tried to do beforehand was to try to prepare him for not being the center of attention by being increasingly MORE SELFISH, or more generous if you want to see it that way. Mommy began to insist more that some of our family activities be purely for Daddy’s enjoyment, and vice versa, instead of Mommy and Daddy only ever doing what was enjoyable for the little guy. We tried to do a variety of different activities for the benefit of each, instead of only one, member of our family. And as good an idea as this all was, we totally fudged it up as soon as baby got here. Because as soon as we saw big brother’s bewildered response to someone else getting a chunk of attention that used to be his, we went in the opposite direction and just started overdoing it big time to make it up to him (and nearly ran ourselves ragged).
We went here, we went there, we did this, we did that, all in an attempt to create a smoke screen effect to say, “Look how much fun we’re having, nothing has changed, SEE!”
And while I do believe that SPECIAL ATTENTION is crucial in trying to reaffirm in a child who was just dethroned that he is loved and adored as much as ever, we took it too far. And our oldest started to act more and more spoiled and entitled, and we just played along out of guilt. What we should have done (and we caught on to this notion a bit later) is instead of trying to match the excitement of a new baby (which is pretty darn exciting) with something exciting to do with our other son every chance we got, we should have worked to MAKE IT HIS JOY. Instead of feeling guilty that our child was a dejected onlooker of our passion and joy for this new baby, that he experienced as an outsider, we should have found a way to pull him into the fold. Because when we did that, instead of trying to spoil him with outside excitement & distraction, we truly became a family. The new baby was HIS baby. We made things that were obviously about baby brother seem to somehow be about him too. And he bought it… hook, line, and sinker.
“Buddy, you have the cutest baby brother in the world; look at what silly faces he makes. He must have learned that from you, you’re silly too!”
“Yeah, he learned that from me!”
My final bit of advice is this, BE SENSITIVE BUT DON’T BE TOO SENSITIVE. Be aware of new needs your oldest will have after the arrival of a new sibling. Be careful with her feelings. Be gentle with her heart. But don’t walk on eggshells. Don’t try to pretend nothing has changed. A lot has changed. And being too worried and cautious is simply going to run over into how your older child perceives this change. Believe in your child’s ability to cope and to adapt, and they will too. Don’t be anxious for her, just be kind. The less anxious we became for how big brother was responding to having a new brother, the less there was to be anxious about.