A new baby is incredibly joyful and exciting, but it can also be a bit challenging to navigate if you have one (or more) older children at home. In fact, you may be wondering how to help your older child adjust to having a new baby in the house. Here are 10 tips to help acclimate an older sibling to your new bundle of joy.
Tell them at the same time as everyone else.
You want your child to hear the news from you — not Great Aunt Agnes — so if you are announcing the pregnancy to the rest of the world, then go ahead and tell your older child, too. Keep in mind that younger children don’t fully grasp time yet, so saying that the new baby will arrive in October might not mean anything to them. Instead, say that the baby is arriving when the leaves on the trees change.
Be upfront about the baby’s needs.
Your child may have some questions about what it will be like to have an infant in the house, so don’t downplay it. Tell them that the baby will probably sleep and cry a lot, and that they won’t be able to play with the baby right away. You may wish to find some age appropriate picture books that feature older siblings adjusting to a new baby.
Get your older child involved.
Some older children will be disinterested in the idea of a new baby, but some will be really into it. If your child is interested in helping, then get them involved in your prep work to make them feel included. For instance, when putting together your registry, you can let your older child select a set of cute baby girls’ clothes or cute baby boys’ clothes to add to the list. They may also want to “help” prepare the room or bring down their old baby things from the attic.
See if the hospital offers sibling classes.
Children will also likely have questions about where the baby is coming from. They may also be confused or concerned about you going to the hospital if they associate the doctor with being sick. See if the hospital offers sibling classes so they can come with you and learn about getting a new sibling. If your hospital doesn’t offer that, then consider letting your older child accompany you on some of your check-ups so you can show them that everything is fine.
Consider getting them a newborn doll.
Children between the ages of about 2 and 4 may benefit from getting a newborn doll. These dolls allow them to practice being a caregiver and to get a preview into what having a young sibling will be like. Treat the doll as much like a real baby as possible, taking it for walks, feeding it and doing diaper changes.
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Track any milestones for your older child.
If you have your children relatively close together, it’s very likely that your older child will be going through a major milestone — such as toilet training or moving out of their crib — as you are preparing to welcome the new baby. For best results, either make these transitions several months before the baby arrives or wait until a few weeks or months after the birth. You don’t want your older child to feel like they are being pushed out of their bed to make room for the baby.
Let them meet the new baby early.
After you give birth, try to have your older child be one of the first (if not the first) people to meet the baby. Make sure that you clarify hospital visitation rules beforehand, and try not to have other family members in the room when your older child arrives. This will allow them to meet the baby without an audience so they can react naturally to their new sibling however they wish.
Be prepared for them to regress.
Speaking of toilet training, it’s totally normal for older children to regress in certain ways in the months following the birth. Older children who are toilet trained will likely have some accidents. They may also wish to go back to bottle feeding. These are normal reactions to stress for younger children who can’t communicate their feelings verbally the way adults can. Extend them grace and understanding whenever they regress, and their behavior will likely go back to normal in three to six months.
Expect moodiness and jealousy.
In addition to regression, some older siblings will also exhibit periods of moodiness and jealousy. They may feel resentful that the baby is taking up so much of mom and dad’s time and attention, and this can lead to them acting out as a way to regain that attention. If they throw a tantrum, give them time to calm down, and then try to talk about their emotions and why they are feeling this way.
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Make time just for the older child.
One of the really difficult things for older children to deal with is the sheer amount of time a baby requires. Older siblings often end up feeling like an unimportant afterthought when compared to an infant who requires around-the-clock care. Make sure that you and your spouse are carving out time to spend one-on-one with your older child. When relatives come to visit, ask them to make just as much of a fuss over your older child as they do over the baby. This will make the older child feel special and important.
We hope these tips gave you some ideas on helping your older child adjust to their new siblings. Congrats on the new baby, and we hope the transition goes smoothly for your whole family!