So you’re having another baby. Congrats! No. 2 (or 3 or 4 or 5, etc.) is always a thrill, but it also comes with one nagging question: how to prep the older sibs for a new addition? Gearing them up to welcome a new babe is tricky but one thing that can ease the transition is to have older siblings help with the new baby.
Now I'm not talking about asking a 2-year-old to change diapers, but rather, ways parents kind find small meaningful ways to be a part of a baby’s life, a process that can actually give older siblings a feeling of inclusiveness and agency. Not to mention the fact that helping with a baby can offer parents opportunities to introduce new responsibilities for older kids and help them adjust to seeing the family as a team and not a solar system with parents that, metaphorically speaking, orbit around them.
Ways to Help Pre-Arrival
As it turns out, the time before you actually give birth to your baby is a great time to let older siblings help. Pediatrician Dr. Joannie Yeh, MD, fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (FAAP), Pennsylvania chapter, says kids can help prepare for Baby's arrival in a myriad of ways.
Decorate the nursery
“Older kids can help decorate and furnish the nursery or maybe make a painting that gets hung up or paint a monogrammed letter for the baby,” recommends Dr. Yeh.
Help prepare the changing station
While many parents prep their new baby’s diaper changing station in advance, this is also a time where your older child can stack a pack of diapers at their level so that once baby comes they can hand you diapers. Likewise, you can give them the important task of folding Baby's clothes or simply placing them in the drawer if their folding skills aren't quite there yet. This way they will also know where to find fresh bodysuits, bibs, and pants when you need an extra hand.
Arrange the Bottles
Getting the kitchen set up is another place where an older child, even if they’re a toddler, can get involved by putting baby bottles in a line on the counter or organize (even if the term is used loosely) other feeding accessories.
Helping While Baby Is at the Hospital
Even at the hospital there are ways to put an older sibling to work and let them participate in welcoming the new baby. It can be as easy as asking them to hand you a wipe or letting them express their love for the newborn.
Buy a Gift
“When I’m meeting with a big brother or sister, I always start out by asking, did you buy presents for the baby?” says Dr. Yeh. Letting an older child pick out a present for a new baby (it can be something new or something they want to hand down to their new baby brother or sister) gives them some ownership in the process and something to look forward to when they come to the hospital or meet the baby for the first time.
Learn about Gentle Touches
Right away you can begin letting older kids help soothe baby with gentle touches and kisses, says Dr. Robin Gurwitch, PhD, a faculty member in the Duke University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Center for Child and Family Health. This also is a great teaching moment opportunity where you can explain to the child how to be safe with the new baby.
Get the Pacifier
While in the hospital, if you’re introducing a pacifier, handing this handy device to mommy is another way an older sibling can help, says Dr. Gurwitch. Simple, easy tasks like this can be very satisfying to a big brother or sister and make them feel included.
Helping With Baby at Home
You're back home and that means it's all about to get real really fast. Now is a great time to set expectations while allowing your older child to assist you with the daily ins and outs of baby care.
Pick an Outfit
Dr. Gurwitch says parents can look for ways to let an older sibling help where they get the feeling of ownership, such as with baby’s clothing. “Tell the child, ‘I can’t decide what outfit to dress the baby in, help pick.” Then you let them choose from two that you’d be happy with either way.”
Go to the Grocery Store
In the early days with a new baby, mom’s time can be pretty occupied. So this is a great opportunity to “send your older child on a mission.” For instance, the grocery store, says Dr. Gurwitch. This will make them feel like they’re helping the other partner take care of baby. You can even give them their own list to check off while they're there (draw pictures or use stickers if they're not yet reading on their own).
Help Distract Baby
Big siblings are great at helping entertain and distract younger kids, especially once baby reaches the smiling stage. Say you’re having to do something baby doesn’t like such as trimming nails or washing their face, “ask sibling to help by singing a song or making silly faces,” Dr. Gurwitch suggests.
Another great option to teach your child about helping is when you do something for baby, they can do it for their doll or stuffed animal. “You could say, ‘Ok, it’s time to feed the babies,’ then they can give a bottle to their doll,” says Dr. Yeh.
The main thing to remember in all of this, however, is that while this is a great time to teach older children about helping out, there will likely be some resistance, and that’s OK too.
“It is absolutely completely normal and expected that there’s gonna be some jealousy,” says Dr. Gurwitch. “Even if they’re excited about being a big brother or sister.” The trick is to make time, solo time that is, for your older child in the midst of the new baby hustle and bustle. And to be sure not to compare the two. Rather, encourage and praise the older sibling's efforts to help out and remind them of what a great big brother or sister they’re being and will continue to be to reinforce positive behavior.
Dr. Robin Gurwitch, psychiatrist and faculty member in the Duke University Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the Center for Child and Family Health
Dr. Joannie Yeh, MD, FAAP, Member Pennsylvania Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics