As parents, you’ve eagerly awaited your newest arrival for months. But your new child’s siblings may not be as overjoyed as you are.
“Siblings may need time to adjust,” says Alexis Monique Canlas, DO, with Children’s Memorial Hermann Pediatrics | West University Clinic.
“The age of the older child definitely changes how you prepare them,” she says.
Here are her tips on what you can do to make the adjustment easier:
Toddlers: Ages 1-2
Before the baby is born: If your child is in this age range, they may not understand what’s going on, so introduce them gradually to the idea of having a new brother or sister. Reading your child picture books about new babies may be helpful – Mercer Mayer’s The New Baby, Rachel Fuller’s You and Me and Joanne Cole’s I’m a Big Sister (Brother) are a couple of popular suggestions.
When the baby is born: Consider gifting the big brother or sister something special from the baby, such as an “I’m a big brother/sister” T-shirt. And have the older sibling pick out a new pacifier or stuffed toy for the newcomer, Dr. Canlas says. “The giving and receiving of gifts between siblings strengthen their bond.”
When planning baby showers, maybe register for small gifts for your older child as well --after all, you already have the basics.
How are they likely to react: The older child might try to take the baby’s toys and may regress to not sleeping through the night.
How to support the older child: Reassure them that they’re no less loved, despite all the activity surrounding the new arrival. Lean on the assistance of grandparents and other relatives to step in to give one-on-one time to the older child.
Preschoolers: Ages 3-4
Before the baby is born: When your child asks about your growing tummy, you should prepare them, explaining what will happen and their important role as the older brother or sister. Books such as Patricia MacLaughlan and Stephanie Graegin’s You Were the First can reassure them about their place in the family.
When the baby is born: Involve your older child in the new baby’s routine by providing a baby doll for the older child to take care of while you take care of your real baby. Additionally keep toys and picture books nearby to entertain the older child while you nurse.
How are they likely to react: “Ages 2-4 are when children struggle most,” Dr. Canlas says. They may not understand how to share you with others and feel off-balance with changes to their routine. As a result, they may sense their place in the family is threatened, and they may regress in their behavior, such as having accidents after being potty-trained. “This is normal,” she says.
How to support the older child: If possible, try to complete potty training before the new baby’s arrival or hold off till the older child has started to adjust. “Praise their good behavior and try to be patient rather than punishing them for being needy,” she says.
Grade School: Ages 5 and up
Before the baby is born: Inform your older children when you tell close friends and relatives about the new baby, Dr. Canlas says. “If your older child sees that you are excited, your attitude will likely rub off on them.” Invite them to help you pick toys, clothes and supplies. Fix up the nursery and show them their own baby photos to remind them how treasured they are.
When the baby is born: If possible, have the older child come to the hospital to meet the baby. Involve them in the baby’s care by having them get diapers or clothes changes. If they’re older, they can help by holding and feeding the baby. They might give a used toy to their new sibling and receive a gift in return.
How are they likely to react: “Older children don’t feel as threatened by a new sibling,” she says. “But they may resent the attention the new baby gets.”
How to support the older child: Allow grandparents and other family and friends to spend one-on-one time with older children or have them help with the baby so you can give attention to your older kids. If older brothers and sisters are old enough to babysit, don’t make them the default. “Acknowledge they too have a life outside your home as well as a role inside it,” she says.