Tuesday Tips: integrating older siblings into life with a newborn
In the last seven months since our sweet baby, Georgina Rose, was born, time has flown by! And it is amazing how many of my friends have also had new babies too… and one of the most common questions around day two or three of the new baby in the home is ‘how do I help the big kids adjust to the new baby sibling?’.
So these are some things that worked with our two eldest children (aged 6 and 3 years old when their sister was born). It is a quick list, honestly it was a text I just saved and resent to friends. But I am sure many of you have other great tips too, so please share your ideas in the comments too!
- It takes time to unfurl — both for the newborn baby, the parents, and for the patterns in the siblings lives. Be patient, this is a gorgeous time. It is also often a rollercoaster ride of emotions and things happening all at once for everyone — everyone is excited, even overexcited, curious, concerned, healing, happy, nervous, proud, slightly displaced, unsure, overeager, growing, learning, relearning, adjusting, readjusting, sleeping, not sleeping, hungry, feeding, exhausted, so excited they can’t sleep, etc… Not to mention the flood of hormones that hit everyone in the home! So start with patience, and then go from there. Soft, sensitive, patient, and calm… let the baby unfurl into the home. Accept the range of emotions as normal, and allow them to happen in a safe and accepting way. Let the big kids know these feelings are ok. Welcome all these things and help children understand the emotions.
- Cuddles — it’s obvious I guess but I encouraged it whenever the siblings seem interested … both for them and for the baby. If you don’t always invite cuddles — with the appropriate safety measures in place of course — they may lose interest. Also, if you are the only one cuddling the baby (speaking to the mamas here), then the others will feel left out in more ways than one. So bond. Cuddle. Kiss. Encourage it. Don’t try to get rid of the big kids so the parents can bond. Don’t let others take them far away, or off for a big trip out in those early few days or week. Keep the family close together. Experience this together. They will bond better and it will help everyone to relax and feel comfortable.
- Skin to skin — all the family in underpants. Yep. This is part of cuddles and bonding. Unicef has a great guide why it matters here. Skin-to-skin has so many benefits including calming, relaxing, helping with crying, regulating heartbeat, and regulating body temperature, to name just a few. But it also helps just to get everyone in a safe and warm place. Relaxing, being together in bed. Bonding. Doing this is quite fun and I think helps a lot! Read books or tell stories, or simply look at those little toes, caress those wrinkly and downy backs, and coo at the new sweet sibling together.
- Family naps — I actually didn’t sleep during family naps much but have encouraged the kids to nap with me and Georgina so they can all bond. As long as the baby is safe and protected, as they are so fragile and small. I think it was novel. The kids loved the idea of napping with the baby, more than actual napping. And it helped also teach them to be quiet(er) during naps with the baby. It was really more resting than napping. But it helped recharge everyone.
- Helping — nappy changing, finding a onesie, moving the nest basket over — all things you can do but they will get a kick out of helping you to do. Even helping with breastfeeding compression — which was their favourite. Get the kids involved. I showed them how to simply press their index finger down on my breast while baby is feeding. They think it was fascinating to understand how milk flow works and to ‘help feed’ the baby. I am sure bottle fed babies also need help with feeding too! Actively encourage involvement on all levels. Don’t make it about this is the new baby, now please leave us alone. You will have plenty of time alone with the new baby at all hours of the day.
- Teach them — it is good for a gentle approach to helping in general. But there is so much they love to learn about the baby, anatomy, and the new rhythm of life with a newborn. Think of this as the perfect time to explain umbilical cords, or why babies have nine more bones that adults due to the skull not yet being fused. Use this time to inspire their brains, and also give good reasons for why they have to have clean hands, or why they can’t touch the babies head unless it is a soft stroke. Especially with younger children (like our son who was 3), this is very helpful. But also teach them about how they can be proactive — they will learn to get you glass of water if the glass is empt, because it helps to hydrate the mama which helps to feed the baby.
- Celebrate — we let our eldest child choose a day off of school the first week the baby was home so we could do a ‘family day’ and just chill out. (Our middle child wasn’t in school at that time yet.) It was excellent. We didn’t really do much except all have a duvet day of bonding, eat lots of amazing food, and playing great music. It was special to her, and the school completely understood how much it mattered to us as a family.
- Embrace their new role — they were SO proud to be a big sister and brother. Especially Joseph as he had a new role. A dear friend gave them each a ‘proud big sister / big brother’ pin-on button and it was so sweet! Joseph wore it everywhere he went for days and old strangers even about his new sister. It gave him a new role and it was a talking point. It was a genius gift, and I recommend it for all new siblings.
- Make a ‘birth day’ celebration cake — we did this on the ‘day off school’ and the kids helped my mom bake this simple cake. We had a special dinner and then cake. With one candle for the big siblings to blow out. Easy win. A sweet celebration for the baby being born!
- Bathing — our children loved to help with the first bath and by week two, they all took a bath together and got to hold the baby. Obviously it is based on hour children’s ages, but again, we encouraged this and to the day Georgina has never had a special bathtub, she gets right in the bath with the big kids. Afterwards, they helped do oil foot massages on the baby, then we would massage their big old feet afterwards. They thought it was very fun!
- Siblings read books to baby — this is always good practice, so start as you mean to go on. We love the book ‘Owl Babies’ with three owls. It is a sweet story about siblings sticking together. Especially great for a third baby.
- Share the joy — every time we recieved a gift, a card, food from local friends, etc, we made it a little special event and asked the siblings to help the baby open it, read the card to us, etc… we looked at all of these items as gifts for the family to share in the joy of. It made it like Christmas every day for a few weeks. What kid wouldn’t like that?
- Create a peaceful womb-like room — I kept our bedroom like a spa for two weeks. This was for me as much as it was for the siblings. Organised spaces make me happy, relaxed, and comfortable. Not one thing was out of place. The door was always open during the day unless I was napping. It was open so they could feel invited to come join us. I spent those two weeks indoors, in total bliss. It was the loveliest the room has ever felt. It was always tidy, with an aromatherapy candle lit all day long, fresh flowers in one spot, calm piano music often playing, a few nice cards on display. Sunlight coming in during daytime hours. And it was immaculate so I could focus on the love and the joy, not on piles of laundry or stacks of nappies that needed to be put away. And anyone stepping into my space whether day or night knew it was a calm space. I wanted it obsessively tidy because I sat and stared at the walls for so much time while feeding! And I loved it. And it signalled to everyone else to be organised and calm in it too… or as much as can be expected with a family of five.
- Slow down and close the front door — I did not invite tonnes of guests, I did not try to host or entertain. I focussed on a few select people who were only very close to us and we wanted to celebrate with. But I did that so I wouldn’t rush around, and also so the family could spend that special time together. The rest of the world can wait for you — you will never have that exact time with those exact people in your life again. So treasure it. And keep the baby bubble as long as you can.
I hope that helps you and your family. There is often such negative talk about new babies and big siblings feeling totally displaced or jealous, and I don’t agree at all. This is one of the happiest chapters in life. In a family. As parents. Perhaps it is about proximity of age, expectations, and personalities, but I think it is a bit silly really. Seeing our children fall in love with their new sibling. It is incredible.
If you help give purpose and make the siblings feel wanted, loved, useful, and treasured, they will feel integrated. Don’t remove the siblings from the scenario. Bring them into the fold. Unfurl. Embrace. Enjoy. Trust me we’ve had moments of kids crying and one of them wanting to hold the baby more than the other, etc…. but overall it was a great transition and it set things in motion for a very close bond with the three of them.
I should add, these photos are all from the first day Georgina was born… about nine hours after her birth. Hair is unbrushed, pjs are still on, life is a bit blurry. But looking back at these they just melt my heart again. So my other tip, even if the composition isn’t great or everyone feels a bit tired, take a few photos, because it is such a special time to treasure.
Good luck and may you enjoy that beautiful baby bubble as long as you can!
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