Montessori-Based Tips for Preparing Your Child for Baby’s Arrival
Expecting baby #2? You’re no doubt excited to meet your little one, but it’s also natural to feel a little anxious about how your firstborn will adjust to the new arrival. After all, suddenly having to share their space and their parents’ attention with a wailing newborn is bound to rock their little worlds. Simone Davies and Junnifa Uzodike, coauthors of the book The Montessori Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Nurturing Your Baby with Love, Respect, and Understanding, share their top tips in the book excerpt below for preparing an older sibling to welcome a new baby and promoting a smooth transition and positive bond once your second child is born. The book draws on principles developed by the educator Maria Montessori to offer parents a look at how to raise baby from birth to age one with love, respect, insight and a surprising sense of calm.
If there are older siblings in the family, the arrival of a new baby may make them feel like they have been replaced or that they are receiving less attention or love.
Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish write in their book Siblings Without Rivalry that the arrival of a newborn in the family is the same as our partner telling us that they love us so much that they are getting another partner. And that the new partner will sleep in our old bed and wear our old clothes, and we have to make them feel welcome and help to look after them. No wonder having a new baby in the home can be quite a transition for some children.
Books with realistic pictures about a new baby in the home are especially helpful to prepare an older sibling. We can let them talk and sing to the baby in the belly and begin to build a connection. We can let them help prepare the baby’s space. And we can make a point of enjoying our last days together in our current family configuration.
One tip for siblings is to have the older sibling sing to or talk to the baby while they are still in utero. They can sing the same song every time, and the baby will recognize it from birth and will find it soothing. The topponcino (a Montessori baby support pillow) is also great for allowing older siblings to cuddle the new baby.
When it’s time to introduce our older child to the new baby, if they have not been present at the birth, we can put down the baby before the older child enters the room so our attention is solely on them. This can be easier than walking in to see us holding the new baby in our arms.
As much as possible, keep the early weeks at home simple, and if possible, ask other adults for extra hands to help. We can ask them to help with the newborn for some of the time, so we can have time to be alone with the older child or children. Some older siblings like to be involved in caring for the new baby—fetching a clean diaper or getting soap for the baby’s bath. Some won’t be interested, and that’s okay too.
We can keep a basket of books and some favorite toys on hand while we feed, so that our other children can be occupied while we feed the baby.
When the older one is playing and the baby is awake, it can be fun to talk to the baby about what their older sibling is doing. The baby will benefit from our conversation, and the child will like being the topic of discussion.
We also don’t have to give the older sibling the role of being the “big kid in the family.” This can be a lot of responsibility for a young child or toddler. Instead, we can give all the children in the family responsibility, for example, saying to them, “Can you look after each other while I go to the bathroom?”
Junnifa introduced the idea of her children caring for each other. If the new baby was crying, she’d ask one of the other children to go and check on their brother or sister. This taught them that they all look after each other, not by age, but as part of being a family.
Often our response to an older sibling saying “I hate the baby” is that we say, “No you don’t. We love the baby.” However, in that moment, the older sibling needs to express how they are feeling.
Instead, we could guess how they might be feeling: “Right now you look pretty angry/sad/frustrated with the baby. Is that right?” We can give a listening ear or a cuddle, so they feel understood. And we would also be okay with limiting any physical attacks on the baby, like hitting or biting. Allow all feelings, not all behavior.
Then, at another neutral time, we can show the older sibling how to handle the baby: “We are gentle with the baby.” And we can translate for the baby: “The baby is crying. I think they are saying that is too rough. Let’s use our gentle hands.”
It’s important to schedule some time with each child when we can. If the baby is napping and the older child is awake, this is a perfect moment to connect and do something special together. On the weekend, if there is a partner or family member to help, we can plan a small outing with the older child—to go to the playground, to go to the supermarket together, or for a short walk to chat.
By filling each child’s emotional bucket, we can help reduce the cries for attention at other times during the week. And when tempers flare and things don’t go their way, we can write down in a notebook what they wanted to do but wasn’t possible right then, to remember for our special time together later in the week.
Sometimes we are the parent who needs to prepare for the growing family. Will we love the baby as much as the older sibling? How will we manage with more people to look after? How can we get rid of the guilt we feel that we’re not spending as much time with the new baby as we did when their sibling was young?
In his book Thriving!, Michael Grose suggests that we parent siblings as if we have a large family with four or more children. Parents of large families can’t solve every argument and entertain every child. We are the leaders of the family. We lay the foundations of the family’s values and oversee the running of the ship.
And love will grow just as a candle can light another candle or another five candles without losing its own light. So our love can be shared with ourselves, a partner, and any number of children. The love keeps growing.
One last thing: Feel free to use the phrase “happy handfuls” when people say we must have our hands full. A friendly reply can be very helpful to staying positive when times are indeed “full.”
Excerpted from The Montessori Baby: A Parent’s Guide to Nurturing Your Baby with Love, Respect, and Understanding (Workman Publishing) by Simone Davies and Junnifa Uzodike. Copyright © 2021. Illustrated by Sanny van Loon.