Sissy and Mike Knopps can laugh about it now.
When their son Kaleb was born, older daughter Sydney rebelled by slathering a whole tube of diaper rash ointment into the carpet when Mommy and Daddy thought their precious 3-year-old girl was napping.
Introducing a new baby into the family dynamic can be quite a change for other children in the family, said Jeni Gronemus, a Prevea licensed professional counselor on staff with HSHS Sacred Heart and St. Joseph’s hospitals.
Courtney Hovland, a Prevea licensed professional counselor who has worked with families in this situation, said new siblings acting out is fairly normal.
“It can be quite an adjustment,” Hovland said. “It’s normal to see some regression or jealousy.”
These Prevea counselors together with Stacy Poli, a registered nurse in the Women and Infants Center at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital, have tips and tricks for parents who want to make the transition of bringing home baby easy for older siblings.
Hovland said anticipated issues for new siblings include jealousy, but that can be dealt with before the newborn even enters the mix with good planning and communication.
“The sooner the better,” Hovland said of communication. “You want to make sure you’re including the other children in the planning process for the new baby’s arrival.”
She said parents should talk about the baby in mom’s belly. Let the kids hear the heartbeat, or even go to an ultrasound.
“Let them help decorate the baby’s room, and pick out clothing or toys for the new baby,” Hovland said. “Make them feel a part of it.”
Stacy Poli, the Women and Infants Center nurse, said she recommends parents grab some books from the library to help their child transition. But Poli also offers hands-on tips for parents and toddlers as they prepare for baby.
During the sibling class, with a baby doll or stuffed animal, Poli shows children how to touch, play with, and diaper a baby.
“We introduce what a baby is like,” she said. “They’re going to cry. They’re not going to eat your food.”
Poli said she talks about how siblings can help out mom and dad, because this is a family undertaking.
And parents should give their kiddos age-specific chores that give the siblings purpose surrounding the new family member.
“You can have them get the diaper or have them diaper the baby with you,” she said. “Include the child in as many activities with the baby as possible.
“And snuggle with both kids." Poli suggests bringing the toddler up to snuggle with mom and baby. Have the sibling read to the baby, or show the baby pictures from a book.
The most important thing, Poli said, is to remind the sibling that it’s easy and possible to love many children at one time.
“They need to know that they are still loved – that mom and dad have enough love in their hearts to be able to love two kids,” Poli said. “That’s something you need to talk to the child about quite a bit.”
Sissy and Mike Knopps of Chippewa Falls, who had their three children at HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital, said although they didn’t go to a class to learn how to smoothly introduce an infant into the family, they did take family advice and seek out books for answers.
“We talked about the baby all the time, we let them feel the baby kick, we talked about helping with the baby,” Sissy said. “I like to crochet, so my daughter Sydney got really into helping me crochet hats and booties for Kate’s arrival.”
Was there jealousy? Yes, Sissy said. Her older children did ask why the baby was getting so much attention.
“I feel it’s really important to take the kids on mini trips to places like The Dollar Store or a movie – just a little outing so they know that they are important and that mommy and daddy are busy but still make time,” Sissy said.
“I also explained, ‘Mommy has to feed the baby so she grows big and strong like you guys. Give me 20 minutes and we can play together.’ ”
Hovland said siblings might be more whiney or clingy depending on their age when the baby is born, but that’s pretty normal.
“Just remember that every child is different and every family is different,” she said. “If a parent is concerned that something isn’t right, sometimes it’s good to come in for an initial assessment.”
Poli said communication is the key.
“Talk to your children and encourage them to talk and ask questions,” she said. “Tell them they are going to have feelings and they should talk about them.”
Becoming a Sibling
Stacy Poli, Women and Infants Center nurse at HSHS Sacred Heart Hospital, teaches Becoming a Sibling classes at HSHS Sacred Heart for all parents who are introducing a newborn into an already established family with children.
Poli teaches parents how to incorporate their older children when preparing for the arrival of a newborn. During the classes, she also works with siblings-to-be on how to touch, diaper, and play with the baby.
In addition, HSHS Sacred Heart’s newly remodeled Women and Infants Center recently incorporated labor, delivery, recovery, and post-partum care to take place in the comfort of one large room for a family-centered experience.
“We have parents that bring their children in for a delivery depending on age,” Poli said. “It’s really whatever the parents want.”
Also, HSHS Sacred Heart is designated as baby friendly, meaning hospital staff and new room accommodations make it easy for mom, family, and baby to be together 24 hours a day. This makes it easier for families to bond, Poli said.
For more information on classes suited to prepare for baby, visit sacredhearteauclaire.org or call (715) 717-3100.