Ever since Christa of Ottawa can remember, she fought with her older sister, Julia. Their mother used to tell them how Julia would sneak in and bite Christa when she was a baby sleeping in her cradle, as if it were funny that Julia hated her from birth.
Apparently, shed say “Nice baby, nice baby, then chomp”, Christa recalls. Then, when mom came running, shed say, “She cries all the time. Lets send her back. Now that I’m an adult, I can understand how she must have resented me, but it took a lifetime for Julia and me to become friends. I didn’t want that for my kids”.
So when Christa was pregnant with her second child, she was determined to prepare four-year-old Michael for his sisters arrival. She bought him a complete set of toy baby equipment that matched hers months before the baby came. Michael had his own realistic baby doll complete with cradle, layette, baby bath, stroller, blankets, bottles and soother. Christa explained what everything was for and how they would both take care of the new baby.
I went a little overboard, but it worked, says Christa. We practised together, so when Naomi finally arrived, Michael fed and diapered his baby right alongside me. It was a bonding experience for both of us. Christa had Michael help with Naomi too, from ferrying diapers and wipes to singing her to sleep with lullabies. I used a lot of positives to reinforce his role although I supervised contact in the early days, just in case. I also made a point of sharing one-on-one time with Michael. We read or played games while the baby slept so he wouldn’t feel that everything was upside down at home. We kept to his old routine as much as possible.
Michael’s dad also spent a few minutes with Michael when he got home before rushing in to see the baby, and took him on errands to fit in some more ‘daddy time’.
“Michael had moments when he got upset at having to wait to go to the park while I finished feeding the baby, but mostly, he’s embraced his role of big brother”, says Christa. “Now that Naomi is a bit older, they play together and sometimes fight, but its nothing serious. He loves her”.
Before the baby arrives
- Prepare your older child by sharing in the preparations for the new baby shopping for baby clothes and equipment, reading books, showing photos of when the child was a baby and telling baby stories.
- Buy your older child a realistic baby doll and baby accessories.
- Don’t obsess about the expected baby or the child may be sick of baby before the new sibling arrives.
- Limit the changes in your older child’s life as much as possible and introduce the changes gradually. If the older sibling is moving into a new room, make the change before the baby arrives so the child doesn’t feel displaced by the baby.
After the baby arrives
- Make sure theres time for playdates with other kids. Having friends is an important part of your older child’s social development and will help lessen feelings of jealousy at home.
- Put aside special time just for the older child with each parent.
- Give your older child a role to play in helping care for the baby, such as folding clothes.
- Teach your older child how to gently touch and play with the baby. Use the baby doll as a model.
- Reinforce positive behaviour with praise: “You’re just a wonderful big brother or You are such a good helper”.
- Set clear limits on aggressive behaviour and supervise contact.
- Acknowledge your child’s jealous feelings openly so you can help resolve them.
- Keep a few inexpensive toys to give to the older child when people shower presents on the baby.
- Don’t be concerned if your child regresses and wants a bottle or soother. Its generally a temporary setback.
- Reassure your child that you and your partner have enough love for everybody in the family.
- Have plenty of cuddles.
Originally published in 2007.