Being a first-time mom comes with plenty of fears, anxieties, and worries. You probably read a bunch of books about what to expect and your friends and family have likely given you loads of advice, but you’re still nervous! You’ve never been a parent before, so how can you know what really works for you? We’ve got plenty of other articles for first-timers, but this one applies mainly to second and third-timers, because it’s about sibling integration! (Feel free to keep reading if you’re curious first-time mom too!)
So what do you do when you’ve got a new baby on the way—who will take up almost all of your attention—but you’ve also got another kid who is used to being the center of attention? We turned to Hillary Scharmann of HEART Birth and Baby to share the advice she gives to families when they are integrating siblings. “There is no way to know how a child or baby is going to respond to a new sibling,” explained Scharmann, “so preparation should start prenatally for the best outcome.” She highly recommends you talk to your kids about the arriving baby so they have a few months to come to terms with the idea and the change won’t be so abrupt.
Additionally, parents can take advantage of imaginative play to help the kids prepare. Scharmann often advises parents to get their kids playing with baby dolls. Kids can practice things like pushing around a stroller or holding a bottle so that they can be involved once the new baby arrives! Taking advantage of the child’s imagination can be a “positive tool that allows your child to feel like a part of it all,” reducing any chance of resentment about sharing the parents’ attention.
What about when the baby arrives? Scharmann really emphasizes the importance of “making sure that everyone is being listened to and heard.” One great way to make sure everyone is getting heard is by including your kids in caring for the newborn. Provide lots of positive reinforcement so that everyone feels comfortable with the changes and take time to talk to your kids about how they are doing. One way to make sure that everyone is being listened to is to find help through a postpartum doula! She’ll be able to spend time with the kids to keep them going or help mom to give her the gift of time, allowing for mom to spend more time with her kids too!
Things not immediately going super smoothly? Scharmann shared this great advice: “Having realistic expectations of relationships between baby and siblings; relationships take time to develop. There is often an expectation that new parents are supposed to fall in love with their babies, and have instant beautiful magical connections, and this is not the case for many new parents. Sometimes, it takes weeks or months for parents to feel a deeper connection to their baby, and this is okay. Pushing or forcing a relationship between siblings can be overwhelming for children, so keeping routines similar during pregnancy and organizing special traditions or activities that sibling can do with parents one on one. If a child shows anger towards a new baby or parent, remembering that anger is a secondary emotion and to dig a little deeper at figuring out what the child needs most.”
Another point to consider is that kids will usually form relationships with each other! The transition typically isn’t difficult because they now have a consistent person to play with, which makes them even happier than before! Lastly, there’s a chance that your kids won’t really be affected by the arrival of a new baby. They’ll keep on playing with their favorite toys and going to school and that might be all the consistency they need! “Kids are incredibly resilient,” said Scharmann, “and they do adapt to change, often better than adults do!” Don’t stress about your kids and focus on taking care of yourself!