Adding to your family is an exciting time and also one that also brings about many changes. Change, however, is something that many of our children struggle with, while others may also struggle to understand the concept of being a sibling and having a younger brother or sister join the family unit. And there are sensory considerations too – babies have a habit of being noisy and introducing new smells into the house! Here are some ways you can prepare your child for what’s to come.
Don’t leave telling your child to the last minute. You have a huge change coming up in all of your lives and the process of adjustment and understanding for your special sibling will need to be done gently and over time. If you need to transition your child to their own bed or bedroom think about ways to make this a positive experience and not connected simply to ‘the baby’. You should also think about what care arrangements your child might need. If they are going to spend more time with an alternate caregiver or family member, start making changes to the amount of time they spend with them gradually and as early as you can.
Additionally, you may want to talk to your child’s OT about some of the self- care skills they may be able to do so that they can learn these well in advance and are not left feeling that they have to ‘do more’ just because the baby has arrived.
Name the baby
One way to ‘make it real’ is to name the new baby early – this is especially helpful for children who struggle to understand abstract concepts.
Talk a lot!
Talk about their new brother or sister a lot so by the time their sibling arrives it already feels like part of their life. If they are able to communicate effectively, give your child the opportunity to ask questions and express any fears and worries they may have.
Visit other babies
Giving your child the opportunity to experience other young babies can be a great way to prepare them for what’s to come. Point out babies when you’re out too. Normalise the fact that babies cry a lot and need a lot of individual attention.
Make use of social stories and family photos
Show your child visually how children and families grow. Social stories can help them visualise the changes that are coming and sharing photos of them when they were young and your own family unit – i.e., your own brothers and sisters can help you explain the way families are made up.
Books about babies and TV shows
Find picture books and simple stories to show how life will be once the baby is born. You can also find simple stories to explain how the baby is growing inside of you. If there are siblings and babies in your child’s favourite TV shows, take the opportunity to point out the relationships and routines. YouTube is also a great resource – search out videos of babies doing what babies do – drinking, sleeping, eating, crying!
A baby of their own
Your child may respond well to having their own ‘baby’ to look after. Just be mindful that your child understands the difference between a doll and a real baby that can be easily injured and has feelings. You can model behaviours with this ‘baby’ too – perhaps teach some little chores like getting nappies, folding blankets and clothes etc.
Anticipate sensory issues
As we mentioned – babies are noisy – it’s part of their job description! Talk to an OT about strategies to help your child. Think about how you can let your child ‘escape’ for a break – do they need a quiet zone for example, or headphones? If your child struggles with communication perhaps they need a signal they can use when they are feeling overwhelmed.
WHEN THE BABY IS HOME:
Don’t force interactions
However well you’ve prepared, a new baby may still take some significant adjustment time for the new big brother or sister. Don’t force interactions and let your child initiate any interactions on their own terms. Don’t be alarmed if they show no interest in the baby – it may take a little time for them to accept this little stranger!
Include your child
If your child wants to be involved, try to include them wherever it’s possible to do so. Have them sit by you when you’re feeding the baby for example, and give them some safe, simple chores to do – nothing says big brother or sister like being a super ‘helper’.
Show and tell new routines
Babies love routine, mums love routine, special needs siblings love routine – show and tell these routines with charts and visuals so that your child can see what’s going to happen during the day. They will also be able to see the blocks of time that you’ve scheduled especially for them!
Find some sibling alone time
New babies are all consuming but do try to schedule some alone time with your big sibling. Reading, snuggling, playing or even a bit of iPad time together.