Bringing baby home for the first time is an exciting day, but it can also be nerve-wracking for both parents and older siblings. Pam Burgio, pediatric nurse practitioner with Renown Medical Group – Pediatrics, talks about bringing baby home to siblings.
Let’s start with preparing a toddler for bringing a baby home. What do you recommend?
With toddlers, one of the things we always need to remember is they’re in a stage of development that is all about them until about 3 years of age. When you introduce a new sibling to them, don’t be surprised if they still want time with mom and dad rather than the new baby.
Your toddler may not be accepting of the new baby at first. This is because the toddler senses change and knows their life is different. To help with this, it’s important to keep the toddler’s schedule as consistent as possible – keeping it the same as it was before the baby was born.
Slowly introduce the new baby to the toddler and make sure both are well supervised. Toddlers don’t know how fragile new babies are, so try using words like “soft touch,” or “baby needs gentle.” You can also give the toddler a cuddle toy so they can mimic what you’re doing with the baby. They can practice feeding and diapering their cuddle toy while you do the same with the baby.
When bringing a baby home, it’s all about knowing the stage your older child is in and what they need to feel safe with this new change.
What about with a sibling who’s a little older in preschool, elementary or even middle school?
As you get into preschool and elementary age, these kids have a better understanding of family and want to be part of helping the new baby.
During pregnancy, show the big brother or sister-to-be pictures and books explaining family and what it means to be a sibling before the baby is born. Once the baby is here, know that they’ll want to be part of the process. Once again, you can use a doll for older siblings to mimic care, but you’ll also want to have them help with simple tasks like getting a new diaper and helping pick the right baby blanket. These small but meaningful tasks help preschool and elementary age kids feel involved.
Kids ages 10 and up have a better understanding of newborns and will likely have a lot of questions about what’s going on. “Why is baby crying? What’s with all the poop? Why does baby need to eat again?” A book on how babies are different and why these things are so critical can be helpful, and there are plenty of options for various age groups.
For older kids, I also encourage taking a babysitting course and learning simple CPR before the baby comes. That said, it’s very important for parents to know the limitations of these older siblings. Your 10-year-old may be comfortable watching the baby while you cook dinner, but leaving them alone for the night is very different. You can gradually make them more comfortable by giving them more responsibilities with the baby, but always make sure it’s in a safe space that doesn’t put either child at risk.
As parents we hear a lot about regressions in older siblings when a new baby comes home. What can parents do to prevent this?
Regressions are very common with any big life event such as a new baby, divorce, or moving to a new house. Children go back to what is safe and well known in times of change. They may also look for more attention, as this helps them reaffirm their place in the home.
If your older sibling starts to regress – such as having accidents after being fully potty trained, asking to use a bottle instead of a sippy cup – it’s important to reaffirm them. Saying “We love you. Yes, we brought a new baby home, but we will always love you.” It’s also important to call out inappropriate behavior and reiterate that they’re the big kid. For example, “You don’t want to use a bottle. Bottles are for babies, not big kids” or “You can use the potty yourself; you’ve been doing a great job for months.”
How long does the transition take?
It takes weeks – even months – for a family to adjust to these changes. Bringing a baby home completely changes the dynamics for the parents and the children. Older siblings will notice a change in the division of time and their relationships with mom and dad and going from only child or youngest child to sibling or middle child. Be patient, and remember it won’t resolve overnight. Everything is a process, and it often takes more time than we may realize.
You may also notice changes as the baby and sibling get older. An older sister who was excited when the baby was born at age 3 may be jealous at age 4 because she is more self-aware and has greater understanding of family dynamics. It can be helpful to create a separate, “big kid” only space for the older sibling to get away. This can be a spot that’s for them only with their big kid toys. It gives them a dedicated space and helps keep toys that may not be safe for an infant out of reach.