How to Help Siblings Adjust to A New Baby

How will your older child react to the new baby? The good news is that there is a lot you can do to help him/her not only adapt, but develop a close, loving relationship with his/her sibling. Read these tips in full from Zero To Three contributor, Claire Lerner.

Expect your child to have mixed feelings/reactions and show compassion.

An older child is often really excited about the new baby coming when it is just a concept – a bulge in mom’s belly. But once a baby is a reality, many older siblings have very mixed feelings about their new brother or sister. They may love the baby intensely, yet also feel angry and resentful at having to share the attention of caregivers. Children may worry about whether their parents will care for and love them in the same way as before the baby arrived. These feelings can be overwhelming and uncomfortable, resulting in a range of behaviors—including acting clingier, throwing more tantrums and expressing negative feelings towards the baby, such as announcing that they wish he would just go away. This is perfectly normal. The first step in helping your child manage these complex emotions is to let him know his feelings are understood and valid.

Avoid putting pressure on your child to be in love with the new baby.

First, babies don’t do much, so there is not a lot of immediate reward in interacting with them. Next, the new baby represents someone who is taking attention away from the older child, so expecting her to be madly in love with the baby at this early stage is unrealistic. Finally, when the older child senses pressure to love the baby, it can have the opposite effect and make her less likely to feel warmly toward her new sibling.

Don’t make everything about the new baby.

Whenever possible, carve out some special just for you and your older child to be together, without interruptions from the baby.

Teach your older child how to safely interact with the baby.

Using a doll or a stuffed animal, demonstrate actions that are gentle and those that may be too rough for the baby. If your older child is too forceful physically or does something unacceptable, like grabbing one of the baby’s toys from her, avoid reacting with anger. We know this is easier said than done; many of us have blurted out responses like, “What is wrong with you? Don’t hurt your brother!” Instead, calmly take hold of her hands—firmly but not angrily—and show her how she can safely engage with her sibling.

Encourage your older child to help with the new baby, but don’t force it.

See if he wants to get the clean diaper ready, pick out clothes or rock the baby in her carrier. Don’t pressure him if he is not interested. Stay matter-of-fact: “It’s okay if you don’t want to help right now. Would you like to bring your cars in here so we can be together?”

During your pregnancy or after the birth of a sibling, be prepared for your older child to show signs of regression—engaging in behaviors typical of younger children.

Your child may insist on a bottle, use baby talk or begin having potty accidents. Taking steps backwards in development is often a sign of stress. It also signals that your older child may be struggling to understand his place in the family; acting like a baby means receiving more attention and care. Encouraging or demanding that older children act “like a big boy or girl” often backfires, as they don’t want to be a big kid in that moment. Though it may feel uncomfortable, when you respond to the need your child is expressing, she is more likely to return to age-appropriate functioning fairly quickly.

Fight the urge to loosen up on limits and over-indulge your older child.

It is very common for parents to feel guilty about all the changes the baby has brought to the older sibling’s life. Sometimes they try to make up for it with extra treats and gifts. Often, parents let up on previously established limits and give in to the older child’s demands. Moms and dads worry that their child is already stressed enough and can’t handle not getting her way. Parents may also be exhausted and feel they can’t survive yet another tantrum. Unfortunately, indulging the older child can lead to some unintended, negative consequences.

In Conclusion

While bringing home a new baby can be chaotic and crazy for a little while, it’s important to remember that adding a sibling to the family is one of the greatest gifts you can give your older child. Having a sibling is a connection that lasts a lifetime. Even through all the crying, tattling and bickering, having a sibling teaches children how to share and cooperate. It also builds empathy—the awareness of and appreciation that others have feelings and needs. So buckle up, it’s going to be a wild, wonderful and very worthwhile ride!