Several months before I became pregnant with our third child, my son and daughter ambushed me in the kitchen one day. “Mommy,” they said with angelic smiles on their faces, “Can we please have a baby brother? Pleeeeaaaase!” Needless to say, when we later broke the news that a new sibling was on the way, they were overjoyed.
That didn’t stop me from worrying about the transition from a family of four to a family of five, though. During my pregnancy, friends would often ask if the kids were excited. “They don’t know what they bargained for,” was my standard response. And even now, when people ask how the 5-year old and 3-year old are adjusting to the new baby, I usually answer with, “They’re still in the honeymoon/infatuation stage.”
My intention isn’t to come off as a cynic, but to stay realistic about my expectations. Adding a third child to our family means less one-on-one time for each kid, a sleep-deprived and less patient momma, and crying — at home, in the car and on walks — lots and lots of crying. That’s why, as lovely as things are now, I know that there will come a time when baby M won’t be quite so adorable to my other offspring. In fact, I have a feeling that my daughter will be the first to become disenchanted since she already lost out on the baby sister she was pining for. (Upon hearing the news at my 20 week ultrasound that baby M was a boy, she promptly asked, “Is there a girl in there, too?”)
So I’ve been laying the groundwork for several months now to do what I can to promote sibling bonding past the honeymoon stage. I have some tips:
- Prepare, prepare, prepare! When it comes to young kids, absolutely everything goes better when they know what to expect. A new baby in the house is no exception. For help with this, check out my post, Talking to Your Kids About a New Baby.
- Give them a role. Children absolutely love getting new responsibilities — and you can use this to your advantage with the baby. We take every opportunity we can to assign our kids “special jobs” to help mommy out. It can be as simple as entertaining baby M for a few minutes while I unload the dishwasher, or throwing away a diaper (followed by the application of copious amounts of hand sanitizer). Whatever the task, be sure to play it up and emphasize what great helpers the older kids have become. Not only will they bask in the praise, you’ll have an extra set of hands, or two, when you really need it. It’s a win-win.
- Ask them to become teachers. Let’s face it, kids are know-it-alls. Take advantage of this trait and ask them to help you teach the baby all sorts of things from how to take a bath, to how to say a prayer. One of the sweetest things my older son ever said came after one of baby M’s first smiles. My 5-year old looked up at me and whispered excitedly, “We’re teaching him to love us!”
- Treat the older kids and the baby equally. Of course, this isn’t really possible, but making an effort to show the older kids that they don’t always have to take a backseat to baby’s needs can go a long way. Every once in a while when you find a moment when you can let baby safely wait, let him — even if he gets upset. Words such as, “I know you’re sad but it’s big sister’s turn right now” can really help remind older siblings that they’re still a valued part of the family.
- Point out the perks. Remember that hand sanitizer I mentioned earlier? Having bottles of it stashed all over the house that the big kids are free to pump at any time is quite the treat! Since baby brother was born, they also have limited access to our iPad and some educational apps while I’m nursing. While we don’t dwell on it too much, it doesn’t hurt to point out that baby M came with a few perks.
- Help them feel the love. When my daughter was born, I remember my pediatrician telling me that she would likely be a lot more interested in her brother than in me. She was totally right! I don’t know if it’s because kids are closer to a baby’s level, more in a baby’s face, or what, but kids are exponentially more fascinating to babies than adults. So be sure to point out to your older children how much the new baby adores them. My kids were absolutely thrilled that they were the ones that got baby M to give us his first smile.