A Dozen Ways to Help Older Children Adjust to a New Baby
Big changes are hard for kids, and adding a new baby to the family is certainly a huge change. In fact, a newborn addition to the family will likely turn your child’s world completely upside down.
After all, your older child has had you to themselves their entire life, and adding a new baby means they will no longer have your attention whenever they see fit. This can cause jealousy, and when this jealousy is mixed in with changing routines and an inability to express their emotions effectively, you will likely find yourself dealing with some pretty serious tantrums, meltdowns, lashing out, or other negative behaviors.
While these behaviors can rarely be completely eliminated, there are things you can do to help make them less frequent and intense than they may have been otherwise. Here are twelve steps to help make your child’s transition from “only child” to “older sibling” go as smoothly as possible.
#1: Include Your Child In Your Pregnancy
The sooner you tell your older child about the new baby, the more time they will have to adjust. By telling your child about your pregnancy early on, you give them plenty of time to accept the idea and even become fond of it.
Additionally, you’ll give your older child a chance to bond with baby while he or she is still in the womb through talking, touch, and ultrasound pictures. Try bringing your child to your OB or midwife appointments and referring to the baby as “our” baby to make them feel as included in the process as possible. Some parents even choose to have their older children in the room during the birth of their baby.
#2: Make Big Changes in Advance
If there are certain changes that will need to happen once baby arrives, try making those changes long before the birth in order to avoid associating the new arrival with things that may seem negative to your older child.
For instance, if your bigger kid will need to move from the crib to a big bed when baby arrives, try making that change months before it actually needs to happen.
#3: Point Out What You Love About Your Child
Make a point of reminding your bigger kid what is special about them and what you love most about them. By saying things like, “I love the way you help me dry the dishes,” you help your child understand that they have a special place in the family and will never be replaced.
#4: Introduce on Their Terms
When it comes time for your older child to meet the baby, make sure it is done on their terms.
Give your older child a chance to snuggle with you and/or daddy first if that is what they wish to do, and ask them if they would like to meet/see/hold the new little one. Do not force the child to hold baby, and don’t make a big fuss if they prefer not to yet.
#5: Encourage Bonding, but Don’t Force It
Depending on your bigger kid’s age and personality, they may be keen on snuggling with their new sibling, or they may not. Encourage bonding by offering the bigger kid opportunities to hold and snuggle the new little one, but if he or she would rather not, respect their space.
In other words, allow bonding to happen on your older child’s terms in order to avoid resentment.
#6: Wear Baby for Free Hands
Chances are, your older child is accustomed to receiving lots of one-on-one attention from you. Try to continue offering a good amount of attention by wearing baby and using your free hands to read or play with your big kid. This ensures both children are receiving the attention they need.
#7: Avoid Putting Baby in a Negative Light
Never blame things on the baby, even if the true reason you are doing—or not doing—something your older child desires is because of baby. Instead, find other ways to explain why they are not getting their way.
For instance, if your bigger kid would like to play outside, but you are feeding the newborn, avoid telling the child you aren’t going outside because you are busy with the baby; instead, consider saying something like, “Let’s wait to play outside until the cookies are finished baking.”
#8: Help Your Child Express Tough Emotions
The arrival of a new sibling can bring out a lot of negative emotions in young children. Though this may leave you feeling frustrated, it is important to take the child’s feelings into consideration and take them seriously. By offering words to put with their feelings, you give your child the opportunity to express themselves through words instead of hateful actions that could result in injury.
An example of this would be to catch your child before their meltdown begins and say something like:
“I see you are feeling sad that I can’t hold you right now. I can see why that would make you feel frustrated. I promise I will hold you after baby finishes nursing and we can read your favorite book together.”
These sentences offer your child words to put with their feelings, confirm that their emotions are valid, and offer a solution to help solve their problem.
#9: Expect Regression
Many older children will regress a bit when a new baby comes along. This might mean that your newly potty-trained toddler starts wetting the bed at night, or it could mean that a recently weaned little one wants to nurse again. Be patient with these regressions, and know that things will soon go back to the way they were.
#10: Give Older Children Simple Jobs
Children often feel more attached to a little one if they get to take part in their care. By giving your older kid small jobs such as fetching diapers, washing baby’s belly, and patting their back during burping sessions, you give your big kid a feeling of pride in their new role as older sibling, and you show them just how important they are to the family and to the new baby.
#11: Schedule One-on-One Time
Even though your big kid is getting bigger, he or she still needs one-on-one time with you. Make sure to schedule this in every single day.
Most days, this will probably just mean a cuddle on the couch and a story while daddy holds baby, but try to add in some small outings without baby for some extra special bonding time with your older kid.
#12: Remind Your Child of Your Unconditional Love
All children need to know that their parents love them no matter what. Unfortunately, we often get wrapped up in meeting the more obvious needs of both a newborn and the older child, and forget to remind our older children just how much they are loved. Their emotional needs are just as important as their physical ones.
By making a point of telling your big kid that they are loved and wanted, you offer them much-needed confirmation that the new baby hasn’t come to take their place.