Today I am thrilled to introduce Melissa Q. of a happy stitch to the baby fever series. She was generous enough to share some very helpful advice on introducing older children to their new siblings, I plan to follow it to the letter! If you don't know Melissa already you really must vistit her site, follow her on facebook, pinterest, and instagram. Not only is she an amazing sewist, she is also a wonderfully warm and interesting person. Oh, and be sure to check out the etsy store too!
Hello! I'm Melissa Q. from a happy stitch and I'm so excited to be here at small + friendly as a part of baby fever. Especially since I get to discuss how to foster a gentle and peaceful introduction to a new baby for an older sibling, a topic near and dear to my heart.
I'm embarrassed to admit this but way back when (way,way back in the 80's) I was an only child and had been for seven years when my baby sister was born. As soon as no one was looking I poked her in the eye. Hard. I was definitely old enough to know better. Thing is, I was insanely jealous of all the attention she was getting and just wanted my happy, only-child life back. For years, I was taunted by this story and I grew up assuming older siblings hate new babies. For that reason, the excitement my husband and I felt at discovering I was pregnant with our second child was quickly replaced with fear that our oldest, C, would hate becoming a big brother. Anxiety levels only escalated when we spoke with other parents. We were assured that bringing home a new baby was going to be an awful, stressful, tantrum-filled experience for C. But, it wasn't. Not in the least. In fact, C loved the added responsibility of being big brother and turned out to be a loving, generous, kind older sibling. Five years later and these two boys are inseparable. They fight, of course, like normal kids but they insist on sharing a bedroom and routinely reassure each other they are best friends. All of this despite the two of them having very different personalities.
I'm certain that much of this close relationship is the result of their two wonderful personalities but we also got some thoughtful, gentle advice from our doula that we followed to the letter. It's most relevant if you are having a hospital birth like Carla but I think this advice is helpful for any situation. It certainly made a positive difference in the first few weeks after we brought J, our youngest home. So, without further ado, I am pass this advice on to you:
1. Keep the Crowd Out. When the older sibling meets the baby for the first time, whether it's in the hospital or at home, make sure the introduction happens with just the immediate family. Keep Grandma, Aunty, Uncle, the Doorman, whomever, out of the room. Let the older sibling be with a small number of people.
2. Don't Force it. Allow the older sibling to ignore the baby for a little while if they want to. No need to even mention the baby. Imagine being a little person in this situation. Probably there are other people taking care of you and Mommy and Daddy aren't around. You might be visiting a hospital for the first time and it smells strange, it's big and you don't understand why Mommy is laying in a strange bed. It's a lot to take in. It's not unreasonable for a little person to need a moment to orient themselves to all of that before meeting baby. When they are ready to meet the baby, be open and receptive to that but let them do it on their own terms.
3. Keep Mommy and Daddy's arm free. Put the baby down in a bassinet for a little bit when the older sibling meets them for the first time. That leaves those adult arms available for big, welcoming hugs. Part of orienting to a new situation and processing any recent upheaval requires big hugs. Especially ones that are warm, reassuring and acknowledge an older siblings need for extra attention and love.
4. Don't take a picture. This is an especially hard one for someone like me who wants to photograph everything. Resist the urge! Try not to take a picture of the very first time the siblings meet. Give them a minute to acquaint with each other before taking a picture. Keep it a special moment for your family without making them smile for the camera just yet. Document away the millions of amazing moments they will share down the road but keep this a gentle, unobtrusive moment.
5. Accept & Forgive any emotion. While it's inappropriate to poke the baby in the eye like I did, it's perfectly reasonable for a little person to declare they hate the baby. Even if it's hard to hear. They might feel some pretty strong, confusing emotions. If they see their parents willing to accept and forgive those emotions they feel safe & connected to the new makeup of your family. This is another reason to avoid taking a picture. Smiling for the camera can feel a lot like asking someone to 'act happy' when they don't feel that way.
6. Let them play baby. You know it. They see the baby doing baby things and they start acting like one themselves. They want to sit in the stroller or be held in the sling. They can't walk anymore and need you to spoon feed them. It's exhausting and exasperating. Our doula's advice was to play along, allow the pretend play to occur but chime in with something silly like, "Oh my! This baby sure is big! I bet it can't even jump!" or "Well, look at this cute little baby! How is this tiny baby going to enjoy these big boy crackers?". Soon enough, they'll be proving they can jump and begging for big boy crackers without a battle.
7. Give them a Job. Play up the older sibling's new role by handing over some age-appropriate responsibilities that related directly to the new baby. For us, it worked miracles to ask C to throw away a dirty diaper. He was 2 years old at the time and so excited to have a job helping us with the baby. It averted many an attention-grabbing temper tantrum, that particular trick. It's a little gross (& potentially risky) but it worked so well! C's eyes would practically gleam when he got to perform his 'job' in front of others who would ooh and ah over how helpful he was. Again, it helped him feel a part of the new changes in the house rather than separated from them. That's what we all want, right? To be in it together. Even when the waters are choppy and the course uncertain, it's nice to be in the same boat.
I hope these are as helpful for you as they were for our family!
xoxo, Melissa Q.