My son was an only child for a full 3.25 years. I knew that no matter what, the arrival of his baby sister would be a big adjustment. I did some research and did what felt right to limit jealousy and avoid him feeling displaced. Here is what worked for us both while I was pregnant and following the birth of his baby sister (including a rainbow-themed big brother celebration)!
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photo credit: Deborah Fischman Photography
Don't let him be the last to know
Don't wait too long to tell your child that you are pregnant. If he ends up overhearing or suspecting that something is going on it may make him feel insecure. We did tell some people that we were expecting before we were ready to tell our son, but we made sure that they knew not to mention it in front of him.
Designate "special time"
Starting while I was pregnant, I tried to designate "special time" every day. Our "special time" is our one-on-one time, where we do an activity of my son's choice. It could be baking a cake, building a tower, going for a walk, reading a book or really whatever he wants (within reason).
Our "special time" activities are generally not that different from what we would otherwise be doing, but my son loves the label. I also build it up -- on the way to school we might talk about what we would do for "special time" later. I did (and do) this so he would look forward to it, but also thought it would be a good way to teach patience for when the baby arrived.
Now that the baby is here, there are times that my son asks me to play a game while the baby really needs my attention. I think that my introduction of "special time" and the anticipation that goes with it has prepared him well. He better understands when I say the baby needs my attention for a few minutes but we will play (or have "special time") as soon as she goes down for her nap.
During "special time" I always put away my phone and do my best to limit distractions. As I mentioned above, building up to it has been helpful. It's also been helpful to talk about it afterward (e.g., I really enjoyed our "special time" and look forward to having more "special time" tomorrow).
I discovered the Headspace app after my daughter was born, but wish I'd found it earlier. The app is amazing and includes short meditations designed for children as young as three. My son really enjoys doing them and they have amazing benefits (see my article on the app + a 40% discount code). He often asks to do a meditation, which is one of the cutest things ever. Often when I'm nursing the baby and my son wants attention I will ask if he wants to do a meditation. He always says yes, and I find it improves his mood. If he is getting bent out of shape we do the "calm" meditation, which usually helps diffuse whatever is going on.
Keep him in the loop
I told my son well in advance that I would need to sleep in the hospital for a few nights when the baby was born. I told him that he would get to visit and that if he didn't cry, scream or whine when it was time to go home he would get a treat. For a long time he insisted that he was going to sleep with me in the hospital. I considered not having him visit (see my Instagram post on this topic), but eventually he came around. I'm so glad that I did have him visit me in the hospital -- I would have missed him terribly and seeing my babies together for the first time was amazing (photos below).
Build up being a big sibling
Refer to baby as his baby
We referred to the baby as "Sam's baby" in utero and made a big deal about him being a big sibling. He was really proud of his role and looked forward to the baby's arrival.
Introduce big sibling books, toys and TV episodes
At the time, he was really into Daniel Tiger, so we watched the episodes involving Daniel's baby sister's arrival and bought the related books as well as a baby Margaret doll. It worked so well that my son wanted to name our baby Margaret.
Lots of people present the older sibling with a "gift from the baby" at the hospital. I felt my son was old enough to understand that a newborn doesn't buy gifts. He confirmed this when I asked him if he wanted a gift from the baby at the hospital by responding "no, a gift from Mommy." I also asked if he wanted to give a gift to the baby and he excitedly said yes.
I do most of my shopping online, but took him to a store and he chose a pink bunny to give to the baby and a rainbow doll (he is rainbow obsessed) for us to give to him at the hospital. Photos of both are below. We are now using the pink bunny doll in our monthly milestone photos.
Big sibling celebration
We also told him that once the baby arrived we would have a "big sibling celebration" (see below for photos), which got him even more excited.
One mistake that I made was telling him that we would have the celebration on the day I came home from the hospital. When he was born, I was discharged at 11:00 am. This time I didn't get discharged til late afternoon. It ended up being late and just too much to do it that day. I ended up giving him one rainbow gift and telling him that the very special cake wouldn't be ready til the next day. He was disappointed but OK with it. If I was doing it over I'd tell him that the party would be the day after we got home, which is a lot more manageable.
I didn't want my son to think thst having a baby at home would be all roses. We discussed that babies need a lot of help and that my hands would often be busy feeding and otherwise helping the baby, but that we would also continue to have "special time."
Tips for once baby arrives
At the hospital
Keep the focus on the older sibling
Lots of people advised me not to be holding the baby when my son arrived as he would likely feel displaced if found me with the baby in my arms. One of my followers mentioned that she had her daughter go to the nursery with Daddy to find the baby.
When my son arrived the baby was sleeping in my room in the bassinet. All attention was on my son and I waited for him to notice the baby. When he did notice her (after asking if she had arms because she was swaddled), he remarked that she was so cute and tiny. It was definitely a positive experience!
Check out this popular Instagram post of mine to learn what my followers said about their children's first meeting at the hospital.
Make a big deal of the sibling (including gift exchange)
My son was really excited about the gift exchange. Once that was done, I continued to focus on my son as much as possible. I let my son into the bed to cuddle with me, let him play with the recline settings on the bed, and read him a big sibling book.
On his second visit, I even swaddled him at his request.
Big Sibling Celebration
We had our big brother celebration on my second day home and it was a smashing success!
My son was grinning from ear to ear and utterly delighted when I cut into the cake and candies spilled out from the rainbow center. I'd normally avoid giving him food coloring and candy, but this was truly a special occasion.
Balance the baby gifts with gifts for him
I found it really touching when people sent a gift for my son along with their baby gift (he also claimed anything that wasn't an article of baby clothing). You might want to stock the gift closet with small gifts for your older child or encourage closer friends and relatives to bring something small for him when they visit.
Continue to designate special / one-on-one time and meditate
We continue to have special time, even if it doesn't work out every day. It amazes me that he is still so excited by it after all these months. My husband and I also each make sure to have alone time with him without the baby. It took effort, but in the first few weeks we were able to take him to the park or brunch without the baby, which I thought was really healthy for him.
Often when I'm nursing the baby my son seeks my attention. Nursing this baby is not a passive experience and I really need to focus on her. I find that I'm able to feed the baby successfully and satisfy my son's needs by doing meditations with him during this time. He will cuddle up next to me while we listen to some Headspace guided kids meditations.
Manage your own expectations
When my son was a baby, other than his witching hour, my home was entirely serene. I entertained regularly, took him out on long walks daily, and even gave him regular full body massages. These days, even with instituting all of the above, I often feel totally overwhelmed. Unless (and maybe even if) you have a ton of help or perfectly angelic kids, having a child plus infant at home means that you will experience a lot of tough days. Just remember that the days can be long but the years go by quickly.
Do you have tips to share for preparing an older sibling for the arrival of a new sibling? Please share in the comments below.
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Click through images for details on items featured in this post (or similar items when mine is not available). For those interested in rainbow goodies, I've also included some rainbow items that I've purchased for my son on other occassions.