The moment you introduce your older child to your new baby is the beginning of a beautiful and important family relationship between your children that is independent of you, yet deeply connected to your relationship with each child. However, this poignant moment can also be very challenging for the older child who has been the “baby” up until now and might initially see this new family member as a rival.
The first moment
If possible, try to arrange not to be holding the baby when your toddler walks in to see you for the first time. You’ve been away and it would be great to have your arms free to give your older child a cuddle before introducing the baby.
When you introduce the siblings, allowing the older child to touch and examine the baby as much as possible. A special milestone moment is when the big sibling can hold the baby for the first time – sit him upright with plenty of pillows and then place the baby in his lap. Keep in mind that toddlers will abruptly lose interest in the novelty of being the big sibling holding the baby so be ready to take baby the moment toddler wants to jump up again.
Before the birth, help the older sibling choose a little gift – a special blanket, an outfit for coming home from hospital – preferably something that can be put to use immediately once the older sibling meets the new baby.
Baby can also have a gift for the new older sibling – a book is an excellent gift as you can read the story to the older sibling as you hold the baby. If your older sibling doesn’t see the logic in Baby purchasing gifts, you can concede that it is a family gift for the older sibling to celebrate becoming a big brother or sister.
Show the older sibling some simple games to play “with” the baby – rattling a toy, peek-a-boo or singing a special nursery rhyme. Once you’ve given a few ideas, let the older sibling take the initiative so they can build their own bond. Consistently reinforce how much the baby loves its older sibling – there will be plenty of cues to point this out, as babies do tend to be fascinated by small, loud, unpredictable yet familiar people.
Ask for help
Once you are home and juggling older children and a baby, you will notice that the older sibling becomes particularly demanding just when the baby needs you – if you are changing the baby’s nappy or feeding. One way to deflect this is to ask for assistance with the baby – “Can you please tuck the blanket around the baby?” Regularly praise your older child for being helpful and for entertaining the baby, particularly when it’s unintentional: “Baby was fascinated when you were dancing to that song on TV!”
Give them time to bond
While it is not wise to leave small children alone with new babies, you can retreat tactfully into the background and observe how the two siblings bond when you are not prompting them. Let your older child settle into the role of being the older and more experienced one, helping Baby learn about the world. It is a very special moment when you first hear your children interacting or playing together, and you know they are building a bond that will last a lifetime.