Our family building began with one child. As our family grew, I discovered that preparation helped our children transition into their new roles as a big brother or big sister. Here are a few tips from my in-the-trenches experiences, practices that helped our children embrace the newest family member with total joy:
Begin the big sibling preparation early
You will have plenty of time once you have shared the news that your are expecting. Use some of this time to help your child become comfortable with welcoming the new arrival. Siblings-to-be can sing, talk to, or tell stories to the baby in your belly. Talk about what a great older brother or sister your child will be, and what a help they can be to you.
Your child can carry a photo around of the child if you are adopting. My son did this after we received a picture of his sister from China. We laminated a copy for him so that he would not destroy it. He proudly shared the picture with anyone he could, “This is my baby sister!”
Siblings-to-be can help with nursery preparation — arranging small items like diapers, books, and stuffed animals. Older siblings can help with painting the room. Our son helped us pick out books for his sister, as well as toys and clothes. My daughter helped me put her sister’s crib together by handing me the small assembly items. She then ran and got a stuffed animal from her cache to gift to her baby sister.
Acknowledge that everything shifts when a new child arrives
An only or youngest becomes a big sister or brother. The youngest child relinquishes the spot of being the baby, to become the middle child. As parents, we should recognize and talk about these changes with our children and focus on the fact that even though our family is growing it is still our family, just bigger.
Our oldest was an “only” for five years before his sister arrived home. We spent a lot of time preparing him to be a big brother. We discussed responsibilities and expectations as well as the privileges that come with being the oldest. We read books and watched movies about families with multiple kids; then we talked about the relationships we read about or viewed in the movies. The transition to becoming a big brother went beautifully because he was so invested. Now a teenager and an adult, my daughter and son continue to be close.
Adhere to your schedule. Children do well with consistency; they need to know what they can rely on, what to expect. Consistency gives a child security, especially when there has been a big change, as in the addition of a new sibling.
It is common for children to act out or regress when a new sibling arrives into the family. My youngest daughter wanted a bottle after her brother arrived home. Recently potty-trained, she had a few accidents.
Discipline and reactions to your children should be consistent with how you handled things prior to the arrival of your new child. Praise the behavior you want to see.
Address the fears that come with change
There will be less of you — energy, patience and time — to go around, especially during the first days, weeks, and, sometimes, months home. You will likely run into additional challenges because you are juggling more kids.
Assure your child that your relationship with and love for him will not change. Try to schedule on-on-one time to listen and share with your child. Have dad, another family member, or trusted friend watch the new sibling. Your child will feel loved, and this is the greatest gift you can give.
Judy M. Miller is a freelance writer living with her husband and four children. She is the author of “What To Expect From Your Adopted Tween.”