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Learning how to be a big sibling

Preparing Kid #1 for Baby #2 (Article)

Well Community was an online news magazine and discussion forum specifically focused on health and wellness in several North side of Chicago neighborhoods. It ceased publication in 2014.

They asked me to observe a class, helping prepare young children to become big brothers and sisters, and then write an article about how to make this an easy transition for the children.

Here’s what I learned…

Preparing kid #1 for baby #2

Local experts provide tips on helping older children prepare for a new arrival


by Heidi Lading
Well Community Contributor

Nicoleta Molnar shows her 6-year old daughter Emma how to hold a baby at a recent event at Swedish Covenant Hospital. 

When Nicoleta Molnar and her husband told their only child Emma that she was going to be a big sister, they weren’t quite ready to take the exciting news public. The three-year-old had other plans.

Emma was so excited, she began announcing to the world, “Mama has a baby in her belly!”

“Our mistake was to tell her before we told anybody else,” said Molnar, laughing as she recalled her daughter’s enthusiasm.

Emma’s reaction reminded the Molnars that, although they have been through pregnancy, childbirth and new parenthood before, they now face a new challenge: preparing a child for a new baby brother or sister.

Parents often have questions about the right way to introduce older kids to a new baby and siblinghood.  Because every family and child is different, to tackle these questions Well Community called on the experts: local childbirth educator Kim Wilschek, RN, CCE, and family medicine physician Dr. Marina Claudio, both of Swedish Covenant Hospital.

When do I have the big sister talk?
There is a lot to do in the months and weeks before your new baby is due, but talking to your older kid (or kids) about the new baby and their role as a big brother or sister should be a priority during this time.

“It’s really important to make [the child] realize from the beginning that this is their baby too,” Wilschek said, noting that there is no “best” time for this.

Cameron and Linnea Johnson made the moment special for their daughters Gwen and Sonja, ages 5 and 3, by wrapping up some baby things and letting the two girls open the gifts to reveal they were going to be big sisters.

“It’s really less about the child’s age and more about their emotional maturity,” Wilschek said. “Certainly when they start seeing changes in their mom you need to have a discussion with them about what’s going on.”

What should I teach my child?
Involving your kids in the care for a new baby is the best way for them to feel important and useful as a big sibling.

Wilschek recently taught a “Big Brother / Big Sister” class at Swedish Covenant Hospital for expectant parents and their 3-8 year-olds, where kids could learn some of the basics of helping out with a new baby.

Nicoleta Molnar and Emma were in attendance. During the event Emma practiced holding a baby doll, learned to change a diaper and decorated a onesie for the new baby.

These activities, as well as learning to feed the baby, and play during tummy time, mimic healthy adult behaviors and can give an older sibling a sense of responsibility for the new baby.

What activities should I do with my child?
Keeping your child involved doesn’t require doing anything out of the ordinary.

“In fact, focus on the ordinary,” Dr. Claudio said, using regular doctor’s appointments as her favorite example. “The newborn’s doctor appointments should happen as a global family visit.”

She explained that during check-ups, the medical focus is on the baby, but the whole family can learn about each other. This is also an opportunity for the doctor to observe the family dynamic and better understand how to help if concerns arise.

Additionally, Wilschek and Dr. Claudio both recommend parents talk to the older sibling frequently about how the child is feeling.

“It’s surprising how much [children] open up when you ask them what they think,” said Wilschek.

What if my child isn’t excited about being a big sibling?
“We know that kids change their minds—a lot,” Wilschek said. She advises parents to back off the issue if the child isn’t excited about the new baby and reintroduce the topic a little later.

Gwen and Sonja’s reaction to baby sister Naomi, 10 months, was “one of true love and acceptance into the family,” Johnson said, “But the novelty of having her around quickly wore off.”

Originally Gwen, had an interest in holding and trying to nurture the baby, while Sonja showed no interest. Today, their levels of interest and involvement have flipped.

If a child seems upset by the idea of a sibling, Dr. Claudio recommends addressing any negative feelings immediately so they do not escalate. She recommends reassuring the older child and keeping them involved so they understand that this change is a good thing.

If more serious concerns come up (like hitting or biting from the older child), Dr. Claudio urges families to discuss this with their family doctor immediately, as they will likely have ideas and resources that may help.

A few ideas and activities to smooth the transition for kids:
• Gifts 
— Let your child pick a special present for the baby that’s just from him/her.
• Read — Pick one or two of the many “I’m-going-to-be-a-big-brother/sister” books, and read them with your child
• Record — If your child is old enough, help him or her record themselves reading a favorite book to the new baby
• Help — Allow your child to help set up the nursery and offer suggestions for the baby’s name
• Bring — Siblings-to-be should tag along on your prenatal doctor’s appointments so they can learn what’s happening with the baby

Heidi Lading is a freelance writer in Chicago and the youngest of three children. Her older brother once dressed her up in football pads and used her as a tackling dummy. Occasionally she was allowed into her older sister’s room to play with her sister’s Barbie dolls.

Photo credit to Heidi Lading.

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