The arrival of a new baby brother or sister is an exciting time for families — and the bond created between an older child and a new sibling can be strong. According to Tammy Glatfelter, a perinatal educator at Sharp Grossmont Hospital, bringing a new baby home also brings many happy changes. Learning to be a good big brother or sister can be one of them.
Glatfelter teaches a class called New Brother/New Sister for kids ages 3 to 8 to help them prepare for a new addition to a family. The class includes lessons on how to hold a baby, what to expect when a new brother or sister comes home, and how to communicate feelings about the baby with other family members.
“It’s a great idea to let a child hold the newborn. While most kids are excited to hold their little brother or sister, they shouldn’t be pushed into it. They also need to know they should always get permission from mom or dad when they do,” says Glatfelter.
She says jealousy is not uncommon. “Sometimes kids struggle with not being the center of attention. If family is visiting, consider asking them in advance to pay attention to the older child first; babies are fine waiting their turn. Or maybe they can suggest a fun activity or something special for the other sibling.”
It’s also important to encourage older kids to talk about their feelings for the new baby. If a child can’t express their feelings, they may try to test the limits.
“It could be a tantrum, or saying ‘no’ when they used to have an agreeable personality. A parent needs to address any aggression toward the baby. If the particular behavior is something you feel you can ignore, that can be the best solution. You don’t want to give attention to undesirable behavior,” she says.
The best thing parents can do, however, is to prepare in advance during pregnancy. Glatfelter offers the following five tips to help:
- If possible, expose your older child to another baby. This may help them to understand that their new sibling won’t be a playmate for a while. They can hear what a crying baby sounds like, and see what babies do or don’t do. Also, consider bringing your child to an ultrasound appointment if you can.
- Be realistic. Your child may not be as excited as you are. Allow them to have some negative or confused feelings. Talk to them about their feelings.
- Get a few books on the topic that you can read together. I Am a Big Sister/Brother, by Joanna Cole, or The New Baby, by Mercer Mayer, are great choices.
- Make changes in advance. If possible, make bedroom changes, move out the crib, potty train, stop using the high chair, or change preschool or day care situations.
- Take a sibling class. Just making your child aware of what’s happening helps them to prepare and lets them know they play an important role within the new family dynamics, too.
The New Brother/New Sister Class helps prepare soon-to-be brothers and sisters for the arrival of a new baby. Learn more or register online.