How to Teach a Child to Be Gentle With a Baby. Tips for helping older siblings be gentle with the new baby when you bring baby home.
The idea of a new baby sounds nice and even exciting to a child, but the reality is often much different than the child imagined. I mean, isn’t it different than anyone imagined? The reality is that baby takes a lot of mom’s time, baby cries, and baby is a baby.
Baby isn’t a playmate or a social equal. Baby won’t be ready to really play with the older sibling for many, many months to come. And even when the baby starts to be able to play somewhat, it still isn’t a running around having a good time type of play.
Maybe your child had no dreams or aspirations with the pending new arrival. Your child might be too young to have understood what was going to happen. Your child might also just not be into babies.
Whatever the reason behind it, now that your new baby is here, your child may be dealing with crushed dreams and might need a little bit of guidance on just how to be gentle with the baby. Here are some tips on how to go about that.
Demonstrate How to Touch and Play With a Baby
Most children will not have natural instincts on how to correctly interact with a baby. Your child will likely need to be taught how to do so. A time-proven way to teach a child is through demonstration. Show your child how to correctly touch a baby. How do you touch? How do you pick up? How do you hand a toy? How do you hug or kiss a baby? You can have your child practice with a stuffed animal or doll before turning him loose on the real live deal.
As your child first starts to hand things to the baby, hold baby, or touch baby, you can help guide your child through the process. You want to literally hold his hand when he strokes baby’s arm so he can feel the proper pressure you are looking for.
When my second child was born, my oldest was 22 months old. I would show him how to do things with the baby gently and always whisper the word, “Soft.” Then when he touched his sister, I could whisper the word “Soft” and he knew what I meant.
Give Positive Reinforcement When Done Correctly
When your child is kind and gentle with the baby, comment on it and thank your child. “Thank you for being so soft with your sister! She likes that.” Children do not automatically know what is right and what is wrong, so when you point out when things are done correctly, it helps them catalog that.
Allow Time for Rough Play Each Day
If your child is a mover and tends to want to wrestle the baby, make sure your child gets some physical activity each day that doesn’t involve the baby. Wrestling with a parent, going for a walk, playing outside…find things to do so your child can get that strong physical movement done somewhere other than playtime with the younger sibling.
Watch Your Child With Baby
It is great to have time each day for your children to play with each other. I even had an official “Sibling Playtime” when my children were younger. As your little ones play with each other, watch over them and step in when needed. Again, they are just learning social skills. They need guidance on what is okay and what isn’t.
Limit the Length of Time Together
If you limit the amount of time spent playing with each other, you can help reduce the chances of playtime getting rough. Figure out what is a good length of time and end it there. You have nap times, meal times, learning times, and independent playtimes that can help break up free play with siblings.
Help Your Child Develop Love For Baby
Your child has a greater chance of being gentle with the baby if your child feels a love toward the baby. A simple way to help a child develop a true love is to have your child serve the baby. Human nature is such that if we serve others, we come to love them. I have also found that it is helpful to help the older child discover what is the same between the baby and himself. Even just “You both have two eyes!” goes a long way.
Relax About It
When I was pregnant with my third child, a friend of mine had twins. They were numbers five and six for her. When we walked in the door to visit them, my friend immediately handed my not-quite 16 month old one of the babies. It stressed me out! Surely my pretoddler would break the baby! But my friend wasn’t worried and the baby survived without incident. This same friend now has ten children. Her babies get carried all around by older siblings of various ages, again, all without incident.
I share that just to point out that you probably have a fair amount of room for relaxation. Babies can handle a lot and are pretty tough. Do not freak out if your child accidentally hurts the baby. Odds are the baby will cry and that will make your child upset enough without you scolding. You don’t want to alienate your older child by making a big deal out of it and scaring your child from ever going near the baby again.
While your child won’t automatically know how to properly play with a baby, you can do a lot of simple things to help your child learn what is and isn’t okay. Give it time and patience and your child will get there. Keep in mind that most of humanity has had an older sibling and has survived it. Your baby will, too.