Introducing Siblings? We Can Help
Welcoming another baby into the family is cause for celebration, excitement and joyful anticipation. It’s also a time that gives rise to questions, doubts and anxieties about how your older child will handle a brand new family dynamic. Children are incredibly resilient and adaptable. They’re also not impervious to change. When we can meet children where they are, give them ample time and space to process and prepare, and empower them with the tools to navigate the rockier parts of this new chapter, this period of transition proves fertile ground for rich social-emotional growth.
Before Baby Arrives:
As with any big change, we do best when armed with information that helps us prepare, rehearse, organize, and acclimate. For little ones, with far less life experience to draw from, information—delivered simply, repeatedly, and as their interest develops—is especially helpful.
With more information, children begin to process what these changes mean for them. Here, we can really tap into a child’s growing awareness of self and identity by centering them and following their lead when it comes to talk of the new baby. This is their time, before the baby arrives, to explore this next chapter on their terms. Here are some ways to ease into sibling prep while reaffirming your child’s developing concept of self, empowering them with agency and independence, and nurturing their sense of belonging to this process:
-Bring out your child’s baby albums! Add them to their bookshelves as invitations to relive memories of them as a baby. Tell them the story of their birth, of what it was like in your first few weeks together. These conversations can set the stage for what to expect before, during and after birth, and with a newborn in the home.
-Keep a rotating selection of children’s books about new babies and sibling relationships available and accessible at home, so your child can browse freely on their own or with you (San Francisco Public Library mobile app makes ordering and checking out these books a breeze!).
-Set the stage for early sibling bonding by inviting your child to sing or tell stories to the growing baby. Let them know that baby recognizes and is comforted by the sound of their voice—there is so much power in that.
-If they are motivated by opportunities to help, invite your child to assign themselves a job for baby’s arrival. Let them decide how much or how little they’d like to wear the “big sibling” hat.
-Make a transition book with your child documenting the process and highlighting ways that you prepared for baby together
-Play your way through pregnancy, birth, and the arrival of a new baby using dolls, stuffed animals, blocks, or whatever is on hand. Trying on different characters, roles and scenarios through play offers so much in the way of sibling preparation: it provides a safe space to explore and set realistic expectations around newborn babies and what the impending changes to routine will look like. It connects abstract themes to concrete scenarios that your child can hold onto and pull from in times of uncertainty. It gives you as parents and caregivers a window into how your child perceives changes in their world and gives them space and time to organize and integrate these changes. Perhaps most importantly, role play helps to normalize and work through the broad range of emotions that can accompany a new baby’s arrival.
After Baby Arrives:
-Keep routines and boundaries consistent. In times of disruption and change, clear and consistent expectations and predictable routines impart a much-needed sense of security, comfort and control for children (and honestly, adults, too!)
-When it comes to one-on-one time with your older child, prioritize quality over quantity. Uninterrupted time with your undivided attention fills children’s buckets and meets a fundamental need to be seen and to connect meaningfully with you. When those “connection deposits” are made into that bucket, your child has more to draw from when things get hard.
-Communicate confidence and trust in your child. So often children hear all of the things they can’t do with baby. By inviting them to play an active role in baby care (enlisting their help reading baby cues, for example), you’re sending an important message that you see your child as a capable and essential part of this new family dynamic.
-Allow space for your child to develop their own unique (and sometimes silly!) bond with baby. We often forget that babies register children differently than they do adults. The big siblings in a baby’s life don’t move or sound the way adults do, and children have a remarkable way of charming and delighting babies like no one else, so capitalize on that!
-Embrace big feelings. Adapting to life with a new baby is not always easy, and it’s instinctual for parents and caregivers to want to protect children from the challenging feelings that come with the territory. If we can shift the focus instead to building up emotional intelligence in children—skills like self-awareness, self-regulation, resilience and problem-solving—they’ll be equipped to meet these challenging feelings when they arise. Ultimately, we’re preparing them not just for baby’s arrival, but for all future life transitions.
Interested in learning more? Our Sibling Workshop: Preparing Through Play engages the whole family with comprehensive tools and strategies for parents as well as hands-on sibling prep activities for your child!
Natalie Anaya has been an early childhood educator for 7 years, working with children ages 2-6. She did her Birth Doula training with Natural Resources in 2012 and soon after became a volunteer doula with San Francisco General Hospital, where she remains active today. It was in 2013 that Natalie attended her first birth as a sibling doula, combining her experience in child development with her understanding of labor and birth to provide safe, nurturing and age-appropriate preparedness and support to a new big brother. Natalie has her BA in Environmental Humanities from Whitman College and continues to explore through her work as a sibling doula and teacher the human relationship to nature and natural processes. Currently, Natalie is a Pre-K teacher in San Francisco.