The addition of a new member of the family is an exciting time for both parents and older siblings. But for young children who are just starting to understand their place in the world, a new baby can also be a bit confusing, or even scary.
Who is this baby? Does mom love both of us? Do I have to share?!
Luckily, there are steps parents can take to prepare an older sibling for the arrival of a new baby. We asked Lindsay Tucker of This Merry Montessori to share some advice as her family prepares to welcome their second child to the world.
When you first found out your were expecting, did you have any trepidation about telling your young son? How did you introduce the concept to him in a way he could understand?
My husband and I were both so excited that we told Eli almost immediately. At 21 months old, he already had an interest and fascination with babies (he would follow a baby or mother and baby around at a party or out in public, and he lovingly cared for a babydoll), and he already had a clear understanding of baby/parent farm animal matching and the baby mammal’s need to nurse from his mother, having made the connection to his own nursing months earlier.
So, we simply told him there was a little baby growing inside my stomach and how excited we were. He wanted the baby to come “now,” so we explained the baby needed to grow big and strong before he was ready to be born. We would explain this quite often in the coming months. He always seemed to understand because he enjoyed rubbing my stomach and talking to the baby, but I saw even more excitement when he felt the baby kick for the first time. “Baby high five me,” he beamed. He now asks for “baby high fives” daily.
What language or phrasing do you use to prepare your son for the changes that will happen when new baby arrives? How often do you speak about it?
About halfway through the pregnancy, we started talking with Eli in more detail about what the baby coming into our family would mean and possibly how it would make him feel. At first, we discussed the behavior and needs of a newborn to set some expectations. We explained newborn babies sleep, eat, and cry more than he does, and it would take time for his baby brother to learn to crawl, run, and jump the way he had already learned. Because he seemed very interested in the crying aspect of a baby, we brainstormed reasons why his baby brother may cry: hungry, tired, wants cuddles, and, Eli added to the list, “misses Daddy at work.”
We also started mentioning that sometimes being a big brother may be hard, and that it was okay with us if he felt sad or angry or jealous. He would always reassure us, “No, me happy,” but we continued to remind him that we were okay with whatever feelings he has or will have about baby. In general, we talk about the baby a lot as if he is already here and a part of our family. When picking out Easter baskets this year, I had Eli choose one for brother, which he excitedly and proudly did. When in the car, he points to the place baby brother’s car seat will be soon. Eli already lists his brother when talking about our family: “Me love Daddy so much. Me love Mommy so much. Me love Luna (our dog) so much. Me love baby brother so much.”
Eli also runs to my growing belly to pat, kiss, and say “hi, baby” at random moments throughout the day. We have also been preparing Eli for his time at his grandparents’ house while we are in the hospital. We talk a lot about where we will be and why, that we will miss him and it’s okay to miss us, that he will visit us at the hospital, and that he can call us whenever he wants.
How do you plan to foster a sibling connection when new baby gets home?
Eli is the most joyful when he has a clear role or task in our family, so we are going to invite Eli to participate in the care of baby as much as he wants, and we will follow his lead when it comes to how involved and the type of involvement he enjoys. He has already expressed high interest in holding baby and pushing him in a stroller, and we are excited to use a topponcino this time around for many reasons, but especially to aid Eli in holding baby independently.
We have also set expectations with family and friends that this time of transition and adjustment will take priority. For us, this means we are excited for family and friends to meet baby, but we will also need a lot of time and space settling into the new dynamics of a family of four. Eli, like many children, “hold it together” while with family and friends only to leave their presence, exhausted or emotionally spent, and release those big toddler feelings for just us.
So, we especially need the time and space for Eli to work through natural and healthy emotions in regards to having a sibling in the safety of our immediate family. We do not want those feelings swallowed or distracted away by other well-meaning adults because working through these feelings will be Eli’s first challenging work of building a relationship with his brother.
Do you plan to invite your older son in helping with “practical life” baby care like bathing or changing? Or more broadly, are there ways you can prepare the environment so that your older son can help care for the new baby?
Most definitely, and what a great opportunity for Eli to bond with baby and feel included and important in our new family of four. Luckily, many of the preparations made to Eli’s environment have already made it possible for him to assist in caring for baby. For example, we kept Eli’s diapers in a low drawer, so he could crawl to and choose his own diaper from a very early age.
The baby diapers will remain there, and Eli has easy access to choose a diaper for baby until baby can choose for himself. We also have a diaper changing pad on the boys’ bathroom counter, and there is already a step stool present, so Eli can wash his hands independently, and now, the same stool will be used to allow Eli to help with diaper changes. Like any family task (cooking, cleaning, gardening, etc.), Eli will be invited to join in the care of baby, and like the other family tasks, this may take extra time or creativity to find a task within the larger task for Eli to complete (I’m still brainstorming ways for Eli to assist with nursing if he wants) or to make additional changes in our environment to further aid Eli’s participation, but the invitation will always be there.
About the Author
A once-upon-a-time high school English teacher, Lindsay fell in love with the Montessori method, her husband, and her sons, Eli (2 yrs old) and baby boy due in June, in that order. She loves this beautiful beast of a job called motherhood. Her days are now filled with songs and silliness, playdates and nap times, library trips and pool dips, walks around the block and crawls around the house, a lot of firsts and even more number twos. And she wouldn’t trade a moment for anything. Find her at This Merry Montessori.
Read more from Lindsay in Guidepost Parent: What is Toddler Maximum Effort?
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