Welcoming a new baby into the family is a very exciting time. It can also be a very stressful time for older siblings.
Along with a new baby can come a lot of challenges, jealousy, regression, and behavior changes. Here are some tips on how to introduce your older siblings to the idea of a new addition to the family.
Typically the younger the child, the less they understand about the changes that will come along with a new sibling. For kids around ages 1 and 2, continue to talk and show your excitement about the new baby; this will help younger children feel excited as well. You can also try looking at picture books of babies to help them understand words like “brother” or “sister.”
For ages 2-4, the challenges of introducing a new sibling become more difficult, because children in this age group are often still very attached to their parents. Children this age don’t understand the concept of time as well, so explaining to them in broad strokes — that when the weather turns cold outside, or hot outside, they will have a new sibling — works best.
Discuss with them that while the new baby will be a lot of fun, it will require a lot of time and attention, and that it will cry. Explain that it will be a little while before they can play with the baby. Also explain that smaller toys they may be playing with should be kept away from the baby, because the baby isn’t old enough to play with them may choke on those types of toys.
Help get your child excited also by having her help plan for the baby. Allow her to help make decisions like picking out an outfit or toy for the baby. You can also allow her to pick something special for the new baby that she can bring to the hospital and give her younger sibling. Another good idea to help toddlers get ready for the baby is buying a baby doll they can take care of, to practice holding and maybe even diaper-changing.
It’s also important to understand that in this age group, there may be some regression in previous behaviors like potty training. A previously potty-trained child may start to have accidents, as this may get attention like the new baby. Don’t scold your child for doing this, but give him the extra attention he may need, and praise him when he acts more mature. If your toddler is still not potty trained, it may be a good idea to wait until after the baby has arrived, so there aren’t too many changes happening at once.
Another great tip is to have other family members pay attention to the older sibling first when they come to visit, or to bring a small gift for the older sibling. Babies will not miss the attention, and these gestures show your older child she is just as loved and still getting lots of attention.
Older school-aged children can usually handle the addition to the family a little easier than younger children. Explain to the kids what having a new baby in the house means and how the changes will affect them. Let them know the positive and negatives. Bring the older child to the hospital to meet the new baby as soon as possible. When the baby comes home, allow the older sibling to participate in the care of the baby by helping bring diapers to you for changes, or allowing her to hold the baby after asking permission. Try to find some time for you to spend alone with your older child during the day, to allow them to still feel special and important.
Before the Delivery
Come up with a game plan for while you’re away at the hospital. As the time comes close, talk to your child about what will happen when it’s time for Mom to go to the hospital. Talk about with whom they will be staying. You can also discuss, if it’s an option, being able to talk on the phone. Let them know they will be able to come visit as soon as the baby is born. Some parents find it helpful to have a picture of the older child sitting in the hospital room and showing it the older sibling as they come to visit, to shows that they were not replaced or forgotten about.
Your older child may cry for no reason, or show aggression or anger. You may notice this more in times when the new baby needs the most attention, like diaper changes or breastfeeding. Show your child you understand her frustration by saying things like, “ I understand you may be feeling upset right now. Would you like a hug or to read a story?” Or you can simply acknowledge his feelings by saying, “I understand it makes you sad and it’s hard when I need help the baby.” Try not to get angry with your older child for these behaviors.
Every child will react differently to the new family member. As you get ready to welcome the new addition into the family, stay patient. And remember that it’s important to let your older child still feel special and loved!
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Brianna Rothbauer is a former Kids Plus Provider.