Prepare Big Brothers and Sisters for a New Sibling
Preparing a child for the arrival of a sibling requires more than buying a "Big Brother" or "Big Sister" T-shirt.
It's necessary to explain the new baby's role in the family, says Laurie Kramer, a professor of applied family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Describe the baby as "a new person in our family who we're going to love and who's going to love us," Kramer, who studies what makes successful sibling relationships, tells ParentDish. Let the child know the baby will have "its own set of needs and thoughts" and explain to a child that a sibling is a lifelong friend, Kramer adds.
She also recommends teaching the older child social skills that will help him or her get along with a new brother or sister.
"It's important that they've got all the tools they need to establish a good relationship with a younger sibling," Kramer says.
Children who know how to invite other children to play or are able to say that they want to play alone tend to have better relationships with their siblings, Kramer says. It's also helpful to teach kids to communicate a wide range of emotions so they can express their feelings about the new addition to the family. Problem-solving skills and the ability to empathize with another's feeling also are useful, Kramer explains.
It's important to have conversations with a child about what it means to be a big brother or big sister, says Deborah Schoch, the childbirth educator at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J. Parents should help their children start to see themselves as siblings, she tells ParentDish.
Schoch encourages children to express their feelings in pictures and stories. She also counsels parents to give kids practical advice about how babies eat, communicate and act.
"Give them an idea of what babies can and can't do," Schoch says. "Let them know they have to be gentle in the beginning."
Bringing youngsters on a tour of the hospital will help prepare them for the birth of the sibling. It's comforting for kids to see where Mom will go when she has the baby and to meet the people who will take care of her, Schoch says.
After the baby is born, moms should find some special activities they can do with the older siblings. Even simple things like sharing a snack or reading a story will help the older child feel important.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.