Having a baby in the NICU is painful. There is a special, additional, layer of hell when you also have other children at home.
My daughter, Lorelei, had just turned five when her brother was born two months early. She lost her only child status in grand fashion.
There is no way to protect your older children from the situation completely, but there are ways to help them through.
• Ask what resources the hospital has available. Some hospitals have sibling activity days, busy bags, and a lending library. All of these things can be useful both for relieving the boredom of the NICU and for letting your child feel included.
• Keep the visits short. Nobody feels relaxed when you are having to manage a bored toddler trying to unplug things. Make sure to bring things to occupy the big kids. Coloring books, a tablet with headphones, stickers, etc. Check with your hospital to see what is allowed.
• Stay connected. Try to get out and spend some one-on-one time with your older children. Perhaps a date for ice cream date or to the movies.
• Take time to listen. Each night before bed I would ask Lorelei if she had anything she wanted to talk about. It was a great time to process what was worrying her, or to simply discuss the relative merits of whatever cartoon she was in love with at the moment.
• Read books. Help explain the situation by buying or borrowing age-appropriate books on the subject. No Bigger Than My Teddy Bear was a favorite of ours.
• Find a special lovey. We created a family of Build-a-Bear Workshop stuffies. I made one for my daughter to have with her when I could not be there and she made one for both me and for her baby brother.
• Get them involved. Let them make keepsakes for the baby. Drawings, notes, or small crafts are all great ideas to keep kids entertained and involved.
• Keep childcare providers up to date. If your children are in school, make sure their teachers are kept in the loop. It is helpful for them to know what is going on, so they can help you help your child. Make a connection with your school counselor as well.
Check out the Hand to Hold Sibling Support page. They have lots of great book recommendations and resources for siblings of all ages.
If you feel you or your child are really struggling, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help.