This is a sample letter to family and friends who will have contact with an older sibling in the days following the birth of a new baby. This letter was designed to share with them the parents’ philosophy about the way they would like the older child to be treated. For example, it suggests that relatives shouldn’t ask him whether he loves the new baby, or focus on what a big boy he is. I think it’s very thoughtful. This was originally shared on a wonderful blog called “Good job!” And Other Things You Shouldn’t Say or Do which you can also find on Facebook.
Dear family and friends,
As we plan for the birth next week (ppp. knock on wood), we’ve been doing a lot of reading and talking to friends regarding advice for transitioning to a family of four. We thought we’d pass on some of the best advice we got, which has helped our friends and their children during what can often be a challenging time for the first child. As I’m sure you know, the first child can often greet the arrival of a new baby with a whole host of complicated emotions, including feelings of loss and anger. We’d like to help Ezra through this transition and ask for your help as well. Here are some ideas:
–Try to avoid asking Ezra if he loves the baby or if he is happy about the baby. Love is a complicated emotion for a two year old and he may be happy, but also angry, sad or confused. All of this OK. Let him take the lead on discussing his feelings about the baby. All of the literature on the topic is in agreement that it is healthy for a child to express negative feelings towards a new baby. Rather than ignore or deny these feelings, the best approach is to acknowledge them. For example, if Ezra were to say, “I don’t like the baby” we would want to respond, “I understand that it is hard to get used to having a new person around.” We would not want to say, “You don’t mean that; you love the baby.” or “That is not nice.”
–Try to avoid telling Ezra he is so “big” or a “big boy” or a “big brother.” (Remember, he is only 2!) (Saying he is a brother or a boy is fine because those are descriptive facts.) He may feel big, but he may also want to feel like a baby and that is OK too. Many first children experience some form of regression with a new baby (e.g., wanting to use bottles, sleep in a crib, crawl, speak “baby talk”, etc.). Most experts explain that the regression is less about jealousy (although that can be a part of it) and more about trying to understand the new baby’s world (i.e., what it means to be a baby). These periods of regression pass, but everyone agrees it is best to just go with them.
–Try to pay special attention to Ezra when you are around the baby. I know we are all excited to hold new babies but the baby really won’t know and/or care, and Ezra does. Examples of this are greeting him first, talking to him and then maybe asking him to show you the baby if he feels like it. You may also want to talk to Ezra about when he was a baby. Another good technique is saying to the baby, when Ezra can hear, “Baby, you wait here. Now I’m going to spend some special time with Ezra.” Another good technique, when Ezra is in earshot, is to say to the baby, “You are lucky to have such a nice brother as Ezra.”
–There is no need to bring anything for the baby. But if you do, please bring something for Ezra, even something small, so he doesn’t feel left out.
–Finally, it is a good idea to use the baby’s name rather than the word “baby”. It helps the older sibling to see the baby as a person rather than an object.
We really appreciate your help during this transition. Please let us know if you have questions.
Lots of love,