Helping a child transition to the role of older sibling is exciting and challenging. While adding another child to the family provides kids with a lifelong friend and playmate, the soon-to-be big brother (or sister) may feel reluctant to share his turf. Here are tips for each stage of adjusting to a new baby.
What to expect: Your child may anticipate that a change is coming as he watches you prepare the nursery and get things in order. He may start to act up because he doesn’t understand what’s going on. The idea of a new baby seems abstract.
- Put off big changes like potty training or transitioning to a big kid bed.
- Get a baby doll for big brother or sister to practice baby care.
- Read books about families who have a new baby.
- Answer questions.
- Take a siblings class at a local hospital, if offered and age appropriate.
- Spend extra time with your child and reassure him that you love him.
- Blame your limitations on the baby or pregnancy, which creates negativity associated with the baby.
- Promise an instant playmate.
At the Hospital
What to expect: When your child visits the hospital, remember this is a new experience – he could be out of sorts. Your child may worry that you are sick since you’re in bed. Some kids will seem aloof — or act up because they are unsure of their surroundings. They may also feel nervous about meeting the baby everyone is excited about.
- Greet the older child excitedly.
- Make a big deal about the baby and the new big sibling.
- Give your “big kid” some undivided attention.
- Take lots of photos of sibling moments.
- Have items to play with during the visit.
- Say anything that will frighten your child with regard to holding the baby.
- Let him stay too long. Know your child’s time limitations.
What to expect: It’s normal for a child to feel left out and jealous. He may go out of his way to get extra attention in both a positive and negative way. There will be a variety of emotions as he adjusts: excitement, joy and pride, but also sadness, frustration and jealousy. It takes time.
- Let him help with baby care (bring a diaper to mom, get a clean blanket, sing a song to baby).
- Set aside alone time with your big kid.
- Communicate that baby loves him and looks up to him.
- Have books to read (or other distractions) while you are busy with baby care.
- Make baby wait while helping your big kid.
- Highlight the benefits of being a big kid: They get to play at the park, eat ice cream, watch movies and stay up later.
- Reassure him that you love him.
- Make expectations too high.
- Expect things to be exactly the same.
- Be surprised if your older child has some behavior issues. Be patient.
Adding another child to the family is a huge transition. With time and loving support, your big kid will adjust and develop pride in his role as the older sibling. New routines will be established and soon no one will remember when your baby wasn’t part of the family.
Sarah Lyons is a freelance writer and mother of six kids.