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Becoming a Big Brother or Sister


Preparing children for the arrival of a new baby



February 2014

Adding a second child to the family may not seem like a big transition – after all, you and your partner have already been through the whole baby thing before, and are seasoned veterans at this point.

While having a second child isn't a huge change for parents, it is for your only child. Used to having parents' full attention and affection, the addition of a new sibling can be overwhelming for some kids. However, with thoughtful preparation and a game plan, a new sibling can be an exciting and positive experience for your child.

During pregnancy

"Any time there is a change in family structure (such as a remarriage, death or birth), each member of the family seeks to understand two things: a redefinition of

what 'family' means to them and how their role in the family may or may not change," says Stephanie Lowe Sagebiel, a licensed clinical social worker with Centerpoint Counseling in Indianapolis and Baume Psychological Services in Carmel. "During pregnancy, parents can clarify this for children by helping them with a new definition: 'We are currently a family of three; soon, we will be a family of four.'"

During pregnancy, there are many opportunities to get older kids involved in the process. "It's helpful to allow older siblings to begin their own special relationship with the baby while it is in Mommy's belly," says Sagebiel. "This can be a great opportunity to begin the sibling relationship by having older kids read books, sing songs and talk with the baby while Mom is pregnant."

There are even classes available to help prepare kids to become siblings. Renee Oswalt, a childbirth education coordinator with IU Health Women's Services, says that older sibling classes are great for helping kids learn about infant care and their new responsibilities as big brother/big sister. These classes can get kids excited for the baby, and help address common emotions surrounding the new addition.

The first days as a bigger family

The first days home with a newborn can be rough for any parent – and this challenge is magnified when juggling multiple kids.

Chelsea Hayward and Angie Springman, child life specialists at Peyton Manning Children's Hospital, advise parents to get their older kids involved in the baby's care: "Allow the sibling to help care for the new baby – even small 'jobs' allow siblings to feel important."

In addition, exchanging gifts between the new siblings can be helpful. "The older sibling can offer a gift for the new baby as an expression of love," Oswalt explains. Also, having the new baby "give" an older sibling a gift can help older kids attach a positive association to the baby.

Finally, don't forget to schedule one-on-one time for your older children. Have a family member watch the new baby so you can have a special afternoon with your firstborn – you'll both appreciate the time!

Anticipating bumps in the road

After the initial excitement of bringing a baby home, kids may respond in a variety of ways to this situation that aren't so positive – acting out, becoming withdrawn or even regressing developmentally. All of which are completely normal.

"It's common for children to act out or even regress after the birth of a baby," say Hayward and Springman. When this happens, it's important for parents to react in a way that's consistent with how they did prior to the baby. More importantly, though, is to focus on the positive. "Praise positive behavior and don't dwell on negative behaviors," explain Hayward and Springman. "Acknowledge behavior that is age-appropriate."

Keeping your child's day as normal as possible after the new baby arrives can also help. Hayward and Springman explain: "Make sure to keep the siblings' life consistent and on a schedule. A routine should be established and followed during the pregnancy, and also after the new baby is brought home."

Above all, make your child feel heard and loved. Do that, and everything will fall into place. "If parents consciously respond positively to their children, then their children will grow up believing that they are loved," says Sagebiel. "This is the greatest gift they can give each of their children as their family continues to evolve."


Tags: Featured Article, In This Issue, Parenting

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