One of my biggest concerns while pregnant with my second baby was how to prepare my nine year old daughter for the birth of her sister. She had been my one and only for so long. I wanted her to feel a part of the whole experience and not feel abandoned or replaced.
I set out on a mission. I was determined to find out how I could prepare her for life with a baby sister. I searched for any information that could help me make this transition easier for both my first born and for the family as a whole. I was disappointed to find that most books and articles focused more on younger children who were closer together in age.
I was on my own. However, by taking the following steps I was able to help my oldest daughter made the transition more smoothly. She has taken an active interest in her new sister without resentment or extreme jealousy.
Steps to Prepare Your Older Child for the Birth of a Sibling
1. From the very beginning talk with your child about the upcoming birth. Initiate conversations often, answering questions and concerns honestly. Allow your child to express his or her feelings without judgment.
2. Allow your child to attend at least one doctor’s appointment. By hearing the baby’s heartbeat or seeing the baby on the ultrasound monitor your older child will feel a part of the experience and the baby will become more of a reality to him or her.
3. Make the most of the time you have left. Is there a special place you have been meaning to go? A favorite activity your child enjoys? Go to the library, a local museum, the park or a movie. Play a game together. Bake some homemade cookies. It does not matter what you do, it is the time you spend together one on one that counts. It is equally important to continue these activities after the new baby’s birth.
4. Write a love letter to your child and mail it. Children love getting their own mail! Be specific. Let your child know why you love them, what makes him or her so special. Praise any recent accomplishments, such as a good grade on a spelling test, or hitting a homerun at a ballgame. Leaving random notes in lunch boxes and around the house are another sure way to make your child feel special.
5. Take a stroll down memory lane. Pull out photo albums, videos, scrapbooks and any other mementos you may have from your child’s babyhood.
6. When decorating your baby’s nursery, make some changes to your older child’s room as well. It could be anything from rearranging the furniture, adding some new posters or pictures on the wall, to redoing the room all together.
7. If you have a baby shower, have a couple of gifts for your older child to open. My daughter loved the “Big Sister” t-shirt she received and could not wait to put it on. Do not forget to keep a gift for him or her to open on the baby’s “birth” day as well.
8. Do not cancel. If your child is involved in sports, extracurricular activities or if there is a special event coming up, enlist the help of others. This is especially important once the baby arrives. Keep your older child’s schedule as normal as possible and make his or her activities a priority, even if you are unavailable.
9. Make holidays extra special during your pregnancy. This will be the last holidays you celebrate with your firstborn. Make homemade cookies and Christmas ornaments. Attend holiday programs together in your community. Go caroling. Go on a picnic to celebrate Independence Day. Attend an Easter Egg Hunt. Do something, anything, you and your child have never done before. In the process you will make memories that last a lifetime.
10. If you have a blended family, have your first born spend one on one time with his or her step parent. My oldest daughter was upset that the baby was going to live with both her mom and dad. Be sure to address these issues from the beginning. She was also afraid that that her step dad would love the new baby more. By spending quality time with her step dad she was assured of his love for her and that she was not being replaced by his “real” child. Again, this is especially important after your baby’s birth.
Preparing your older child for the birth of a sibling will not only benefit him or her, but will also help make the transition smoother for the entire family. This is a new experience for both of you, and there will be many challenges along the way. Be patient with yourself and your child. It may take time, but before you know it your child will be an eager participant in caring for the new baby!