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Acclimatizing Your Older Kid(s) for a New Baby’s Arrival

Congratulations on growing your family yet again! There is now another sibling in the mix and more love to go around. But there can also be apprehension when it means the loss of ‘only child’ or ‘baby’ status. This can be a huge adjustment for everyone! Scratch that, it IS a huge adjustment. 

So what can you do to make the transition easier? 

As a mom of four kiddos myself, I’ve had much first had as well as professional experience. It can be a lot for you to deal with too! You’re gaining a love but you have to adjust some of your interactions with your existing ones. I hear you and I feel you. 

So again, what can you do to make the transition easier?

Talk to them about it! Even if there is a smaller age gap between two kiddos they can understand more than they can speak. Mommy is having a baby, things will be different, you’re a big ‘brother/sister’ now (or again!) There are many books out there that help encourage this concept and it is a great way to help them understand why all these changes are happening to mommy. 

Involve them! Before and after the baby is here, ensure that you are involving the child with the baby in an age-appropriate way. Below is a chart of ideas for this step but most important is that they don’t feel like they’re being replaced in the family by a newer ‘version’. Instead try to make them feel like everyone is gaining someone to love, not just the parents. Their role is changing but they still a pivotal part of what makes you a family. Younger kids love to show that they are the ‘big one’ now. Older children love playing and making the baby smile and being a true, appreciated help for their parents. With both, their help makes a positive impact for you and baby!  

Ages 1-6Age 7+
Before birth:Read big brother/sister bookHelp set up nursery Help pick out clothes and blankets to buy babyLet them feel baby kicking in your belly and sing/talk to the baby in your bellyModel taking care of a baby with a dollBefore birth:Ask if they have questions related to the baby and what is needed to care for a babyInvolve in some of the ‘easier’ decisions around the baby (e.g. blue jay blue or ocean blue for the nursery)Keep discussions open and inviting around baby, such as telling them names you are thinking of. Makes them feel validated and ‘in the know’ and not like they are not privy to information regarding their sibling
Baby here:Ask for help to bring items you need (e.g. bring mummy the blanket please)Show then how to interact with baby – gentle touch and where not to touch (they won’t inherently know and this could make them nervous so showing them makes it safer and less intimidating)Have a ‘busy box’ (box of easy play items that are new for them, e.g. new box of crayons and a colouring book, balloons, pinwheels, race cars, playdoh) ready for when you are in the newborn stage and busy breastfeeding and unable to pay full attention to them Let them imitate with their own doll what mommy is doing with the babyBaby here:Involve them in simple caring for baby aspects (e.g. getting baby dressed including getting to pick their clothes – always with guidance and supervision)Encourage interactions but do not force them – someone’s kids don’t want to interact until baby is appropriately responsive (smiles back) and that’s ok!Explain times of busyness with baby and explain what you are doing so they understand whyEnsure that the child knows that they are not loved any less because of the less time spent with them but that the baby just needs mommy more at this stage but it’s temporary until they get older 

Get the older child used to other caregivers. This is particularly important for the under 6 ages. If a child will only go to mommy or listen to mommy, then you will have issues when mommy is doing a bedtime routine with baby, or breastfeeding, or changing the diaper, or….you get it? As much as we mom’s would love to grow an extra arm or bilocate it’s not possible. So having little Johnny used to daddy, and grandma, and Oma, and Aunties and etc…will make it easier for them to care for your older child without them growing resentful toward the baby. If mommy was always with me before and now baby is here and ruined Everything – not a good place to be. BUT if little Johnny was used to having grandma take him to the park, when she comes to give a helping hand after the birth, he will happily go with her to the park again. Now the caveat is if you do not have that support system around you, it’s obviously hard to do. In this situation I would recommend finding a favourite game/hobby/activity that they can do when you know you will be busy. This is also a time when screen time can be used as a tool to get something done. 

Finally, don’t force the connection, it will happen! My eldest was quite indifferent when my fourth was born and he told me quite bluntly, “I don’t like them when their so red and squishy – I’ll play with him more when he can do stuff.”. Well there’s a kid who has been around the block with this a couple of times! They’re trying to navigate with this new human means for them too. While they love them there is a natural competition for their parents attention and affection and it’s our job to reiterate that there is enough love to go around. They need not fear a loss of love with a gain of a sibling. 

And gosh, those sibling moments where the older one teaches the younger one something, or they sing a song together, or invent a game together. There’s truly nothing quite like being a Mama and witnessing moments of connection like that. 

Most importantly, you’ve got this! It isn’t easy, the hardest part is immediately post-partum but it does get easier and it’s oh so worth it. 

Kendra deJong, RN, Mama Coach, Mama to four

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