by Laura Romero, Family Support Navigator
Having a baby in the hospital NICU is a very stressful time for all members of a family. Siblings experience worry, feel sad and often find it hard to understand the things that are happening. We can support siblings by giving them accurate information and showing them that they are important – even when there is a lot of change happening in the family. Below are some suggestions for making siblings feel extra special during this difficult time.
- Consistency is extremely important for younger children. Try to maintain normal routines including extracurricular activities.
- As much as possible, keep consistent and familiar caregivers in the home while you are away. With so many changes, the presence of a known and trusted adult will help younger children who may have a difficult time being separated from mom and dad.
- Set aside special time for siblings every day. Even small things like reading books together at bedtime or taking quick walks around the neighborhood make a big difference.
- Ask family and friends to spend time with siblings.
- Write special notes to siblings from the baby. Examples may be sending a note that say’s “You are a wonderful big brother!” or “I am so glad I have a sister like you!”
- Leave sticky notes around the house reminding siblings how special they are and how much you love them. Let them know that you are always thinking about them.
- Sometimes routines need to be adapted. For example, if your normal family routine is to eat dinner together every night, but this is when you are visiting the baby in the hospital, try eating breakfast together as a family each morning before the day begins.
- Encourage siblings to talk about their feelings. Take time to listen and voice what you are hearing. Children need to know that they are being heard.
- Make a list of all the things the sibling can do that the new baby can’t do.
- After the baby comes home you will be devoting a lot of time to their care. Suggest that if siblings are feeling sad, angry or lonely that they tell you they need you to spend some time with them.
- Keep some small toys and gifts on hand for times when visitors bring gifts by for the baby but not for siblings.
- Take advantage of times during the day when the baby is napping to play a game with, read a book to or just talk to siblings.
- Ask friends or family to stay with the baby while he/she is napping. Take siblings out for ice cream or to the park.
- Schedule regular “dates” with siblings where they are choosing what they would like to do with you.
- Let siblings choose what books to read to the baby or what music to play.
- Spend time when tucking siblings into bed to discuss what kind of day they had. Discuss the things that made them happy, sad, angry, frustrated, etc.
REMEMBER: The addition of a new baby to the family, especially a baby that requires extra special care can be a challenging experience for siblings, but it can be a positive experience as well. The most important thing we can do for siblings is to give them support, encouragement, information and most of all reassurance that they are still an important member of the family. Sometimes the smallest things make the biggest differences in the lives of children!
Rector, Linda (2007). Supporting Siblings & Their Families During Intensive Baby Care. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.
Anne Claire Hickman, CCLS, CIMI, Child Life Specialist at Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas (Personal Communication, June 9, 2012).