Prepping Your Child for a New Sibling
Try these tips for preparing your child for a new sibling before and after the baby is born.
By Bronwyn Charlton, PhD
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There’s a wealth of information available for parents about bringing home a new baby, but what about when the new baby isn’t your first? Although the arrival of a new sibling brings joy and excitement, it can also jeopardize sibling’s sense of security, leaving them angry and resentful of the family’s newest addition. Consequently, in addition to getting your home ready for a new baby, it’s important that you also focus on preparing the rest of the family.
Before the Baby Is Born
It’s important to involve your child and keep routines as normal as possible in the weeks before and after your baby’s arrival. Try these tips:
- Postpone your new-baby discussion until you’re showing, and when you do have it, use a calendar to mark the days, or talk about how the baby will arrive in a particular season (when it’s hot outside), or after an event (when school gets out for the summer).
- Involve siblings as much as they want (let their questions be the guide).
- Be concrete about what the new baby’s arrival will be like: “Mommy will be very tired,” “The baby will cry and sleep a lot.”
- Invite older siblings to share pictures, stories, and video of their newborn days. Kids love to hear stories about what life was like when they were a baby.
- Avoid big transitions like changing caregivers, moving to a big-girl/boy bed, potty training, getting rid of the pacifier or binky, starting preschool, etc. If siblings must undergo these changes because of the new baby, start them as early as possible (at least several weeks before), so a negative connection doesn’t develop between the changes and the baby’s arrival.
- Prepare siblings for your absence during the birth of the new baby (how long you will be gone, where your child will stay). How you act lets your child know how to feel. If you seem sad or anxious, they will feel sad or anxious.
- Use role-playing with dolls to talk about feelings, adjustment, and what life will be like with a new sibling (best for toddler siblings).
After the Baby Is Born
Allow siblings to visit you and meet the new baby soon after he/she is born (in the hospital). This will help to reinforce that it’s a special, family event. Of course, if you feel like your child will be scared of the hospital setting (e.g., seeing you in a robe or with an IV), let the big introduction wait until you get home. A few more helpful hints:
- Have big-brother/sister gifts waiting, from the new baby, when they first meet him/her.
- Don’t make comparisons (“he’s much calmer than you were,” or “you cried a lot more.”)
- Don’t be alarmed if siblings don’t express an interest in the new baby. Sibling relationships have a lifetime to develop.
- Accept that some regression may occur; this is normal. Baby your big-boy/girl for a while, if that’s what he/she seems to need.
- Remind visitors to pay attention to your older kids and monitor gift-giving. It can be upsetting for sibling to see all of the presents that the newborn receives, especially when people don’t bring something for them.
- Try not to blame the baby for your new limitations (“Mommy can’t play with you now because I have to feed the baby,” or “Mommy needs to change the baby, so you need to read to yourself.”). Blaming new babies for decreased time spent with you breeds sibling resentment. Instead, involve siblings in child care as helpers.
- Create opportunities for older siblings to be participants and not competitors (e.g., getting a diaper ready, reading the baby a story, pushing the carriage).
- Remind siblings of the things they can do because they are older (e.g., eating food, playing with toys, going to the playground).
- Remember to give siblings private time with you and reinforce the idea that many of the things they are able to help out with (e.g., errand running, meal preparation, etc.), are because of their advanced abilities.
What If Problems Arise?
Research shows that a child’s developmental stage affects their adjustment to new siblings. Children 2 years of age and under have more difficulty because they still have strong needs for parents’ time and closeness. Stress on the family also makes children’s adjustment harder.
Remember, even the most well-meaning siblings can play too rough or hug too hard in the beginning, so show them how to play gently with their new sibling. Focus on the positive behaviors your child shows to her new sibling (“I like the way you stroked the baby’s leg.”). Most importantly, don’t despair. The first few months are a big adjustment for everyone.
Video: How to Prepare a Toddler for a New Sibling
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