September 18, 2019
We are continuing our focus on safety for September’s National Baby Safety Month with sibling safety. At some point, whether this is your second or third baby and you have a big sib to deal with or it’s your first baby and cousins or friends’ kids will be around, that older child will pose a safety risk to the baby.
Little people do things that aren’t safe for brand new babes even when they’re trying to be kind. My oldest daughter wanted very badly to share her enormous stuffed bear with the new baby and my middle daughter wanted to sweetly share snacks with the little one. Needless to say, if there are some competition issues, the older kid might have other ideas to get attention back from the baby that aren’t so kind. It’s not because they’re trying to harm the baby per se, they just don’t understand a being with different capabilities yet.
Two Key Actions:
- Talk early and often about what is ok and what is not ok. Ideally, start talking about this before the baby arrives and keep talking about it regularly. Young children don’t comprehend “not” or “don’t” statements well. Try to explain things in terms of the positive action. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t touch the baby’s face,” say, “It’s nice to gently touch the baby’s feet or the top of their head”.
- Keep an eye on them. Don’t assume the bigger kid remembers all the great communication you did. They will eventually forget or ignore it and try something.
Here are some of the more common scenarios and ways to help avoid them.
Sharing blankets, pillows or stuffed animals
Kids know that stuffies or soft blankies can be soothing and will often want to “share” them with the baby if they’re fussing. Sometimes they want to put them in the crib with a sleeping babe out of the kindness of their little (misguided) hearts. This is, of course, a smothering risk for newborns. Talk with your child early about what is safe to share with the baby – say a pacifier or small lovey – and what to keep for themselves.
Feeding the baby
We spend a lot of time teaching young children to share. Naturally, they will, at some point, take that lesson to heart and try to share their snacks with the new baby. Talk early and remind them often that baby only drinks milk. Let them give the baby the pacifier, and remind them that only parents feed the baby. The car is one place this seems to happen a lot. You can keep snacks out of the car or kids separated or remind the kids each time they’re having a snack in the car next to the baby that we keep our snacks to ourselves.
Carrying the baby
Kids love to emulate adults. They see us carrying and holding the baby and will often think they can do the same – after all, the baby is so tiny at first! Set up times that it is ok to hold the baby – sitting in a supported position and supervised. Remind them that if the baby is lying on the floor and fussing, they can lie down with baby or get your attention, but should not pick the baby up.
If you have a little bigger age-gap, you will often end up with choking hazard toys around. Regular sized Legos, hatchimals, and small jewelry are some common ones these days. It can seem impossible to keep the house “baby proof” with kids leaving stuff around all the time. You can be as vigilant as possible and still miss things. If you’re struggling to keep up with the small toys – make a baby “safe space” with a playpen or baby gates. Check it over before sticking baby inside. If baby is in other areas, you’ll have to be on higher alert. We have a rule in our house that if I find one of the small toys in the baby’s area, it goes in the trash immediately. That helped clear up the issue quickly!
Don’t worry – it won’t stay stressful forever! The great thing about having siblings or close friends is that eventually you buy yourself time with them playing together. Think of this as an investment in future independence!