Another baby on the way is a happy time for parents — kids, however, might have mixed feelings. Here are some ways to share the news and help your children prepare for a new sibling.
Make the Announcement
“Our family is having a baby!” This happy announcement is a wonderful way to reveal the news to friends. It’s also the best way to introduce the idea to an older child who is about to become a big brother or sister.
“If the message is ‘Mom’s having a baby,’ then the child, who is accustomed to being mom’s baby, can conclude ‘I’m being replaced,’” says Danielle Breach, a doula with Mother Rising Women’s Studio in Chardon. “The words you choose can help a child feel proud to make the transition to a new role, rather than displaced.”
Breach also recommends establishing a routine with an older child during the pregnancy that can be continued after the birth.
“Quality time doesn’t have to mean a trip to the zoo. It can be as simple as going to the grocery store together or sharing a story while baby naps. What’s important is that small chunk of individualized time.”
Get Kids Involved
Alayna Spratley, a childbirth educator who teaches Birth Boot Camp classes in the Akron/Cleveland area, emphasizes how helpful it can be for older siblings to participate in preparations for their new sibling.
“Whether it’s picking out baby clothing, helping to prepare the space where the baby will sleep, or listening to the heartbeat during one of Mom’s prenatal visits,” Spratley says, “hands-on participation helps a child feel like a part of the family’s transition.”
Most area hospitals offer sibling preparation classes, and those sessions are a great way for your older child to learn a bit about what life is like with a new baby. Sandra Hoch has coordinated and taught MetroHealth’s sibling class for a decade. She emphasizes safety concerns and realistic expectations.
“Some children, when told ‘You’re going to help with the baby’ picture themselves carrying the baby or feeding it. We stress realistic limits,” Hoch says.
She adds that they also make sure to cover lots of ways older siblings can safely interact with the baby. For instance, an older child can pick a favorite song and sing to the baby prenatally, then sing that same song later when the baby is upset or fussy. Newborns recognize familiar voices, and an older child can feel terrific knowing there’s something they can do that actually helps, at least sometimes.
“Babies love to hear children’s voices,” Hoch says.
MetroHealth’s sibling class includes a tour of the hospital’s maternity unit, so a child will have a visual memory of where Mom is during her stay. Other hospitals’ sibling classes are similar. Kids learn, via videos and demonstrations with dolls, how babies are held, fed and changed. MetroHealth’s class is designed for siblings ages 2 to 11. Safety is the main focus for the younger participants. For kids on the older end of the range, instructors include information about how babies learn and grow, highlighting constructive playtimes and meaningful interactions.
On a practical level, it’s best to eliminate other stressors from your older child’s life around the time of the birth. If they will be moving to a new room or bed, make the change happen well before your due date. If you’re thinking about toilet training for the older sibling, tackle that early in your pregnancy, or wait until several months after the birth. And be aware that, even for older siblings whose eating, sleeping and toileting routines are well established, regression is common when a baby arrives in the household. The best approach is to remain calm yourself, and help the older sibling feel as secure as possible.
Childbirth educators agree that preparing older children is a common concern, but families can definitely make this transition in a good way.
“For the entire family, it’s kind of like juggling and learning to put in another ball. It’s challenging at first, but you can get the hang of it,” Breach says.