Volunteer program helps children become siblings

October 29, 2013

A new baby’s arrival is an exciting time for a family but can be challenging for young children who don’t understand the full impact of becoming a sister or brother. Volunteers from the May Court Club of London are helping make the transition easier for kids and parents through the Sibling Awareness Program, held each month in the birthing unit at London Health Sciences Centre’s Victoria Hospital.

This free one-hour program is aimed at three- to six-year-olds like Molly (4) whose mother is expecting a second child. 

“We’ve been trying to talk to her about the baby’s arrival, but it’s great to have it come from someone else,” says Molly’s mom, Kim Jones. “This program will make it more concrete for her.” 

Children learning with the help of puppets
Children watch May Court volunteers Carolyn Scott and Elise Feightner perform a puppet show about becoming an older sibling. See more photos on LHSC's Facebook page.

The children and their parents begin the hour by colouring “Birth Day” cards for their soon-to-arrive siblings. Once everyone settles in, co-coordinators Carolyn Scott and Elise Feightner from May Court begin their puppet show. Puppet Rosie, who has a new baby sister, explains to her puppet friend Ben what to expect with a new baby in the house and how much fun it is to be an older sibling.

“We aim to present all of the information in a non-alarming way with easily understood descriptions,” says Scott (aka Rosie the puppet). “Many of the volunteer program organizers are former teachers and we love working with children,” she adds.

The children are very engaged when they break into small groups to examine the “newborn” dolls with May Court volunteers.  The volunteers talk about the characteristics of newborns, including weak necks and soft heads, and tell the children to expect a lot of sleeping, eating, and crying from their baby sibling.  The kids are shown how to hold the babies and be very gentle helpers.

After the “newborn” dolls are tucked away, children and parents visit an empty birthing room to see where mom will “do her work”.  They are shown the special beds mom and baby will each have during their stay. Along the walk to and from the birthing room, kids are encouraged to wash their hands to practice hand hygiene.

Back in the conference room the kids meet baby Graham, who was born just the day before; he arrives with his dad, grandma and big brother. This visit teaches the kids to be gentle and quiet around the newborn, and offers a visual of how tiny their new sibling will be. Singing quietly enough to not wake baby Graham, the kids all sing “Happy Birth Day” to the newborn.

A storybook is then read to the children before their graduation, which includes a sticker proclaiming they will be a great big brother or sister.

The Sibling Awareness Program takes place 12 times a year, and parents expecting their second child can register their child by calling the birthing unit.

The May Court Club of London advocates for children and youth in our community who are in need of social, educational, physical or emotional support. The May Court Club is the oldest service club in Canada. In 2012, May Court celebrated 80 years of service in the community. Over the years, May Court has raised and donated over $1.8 million to the community of London.

See more photos on LHSC's Facebook page.

For more on what LHSC is doing to strengthen and enhance our community and partnerships, please visit the Caring for Our Community website.