Ready or not, the arrival of a new baby can bring about momentous change to a family.
Parents spend a lot of energy on preparations in anticipation of her arrival – from getting the room ready to washing up clothes to setting up the baby swing and other necessities. Then, once the baby arrives, much of the family’s attention involves feeding, changing and caring for the newborn.
All this change can be hard for older siblings to handle. It’s common for them to feel jealousy toward the newborn and to react to the upheaval by acting out.
“Siblings may be worried about how their routine and their relationship with their parents are going to change,” said Dr. Sarah Adams, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Hudson. “They act out as a cry for your attention and reassurance.”
The good news is with a little planning and preparation, parents can get their kids ready for the newest addition to your family — and lay the groundwork for acceptance of the new sibling.
Things like discussing the pregnancy in terms that make sense to kids, involving them in the preparations and including kids in the care of the newborn are all steps parents can take to make things easier for everyone.
During your pregnancy
When you tell your child about an impending sibling, consider your own comfort level and your child’s maturity level.
Preschoolers, for example, may not grasp concepts of time, so it might not mean much if you say that the baby will arrive in a few months. Instead, you could explain that the baby will arrive in a particular season, such as winter or when it’s cold outside.
Wondering how much detail you should provide? Let your child’s questions be your guide.
For example, a 4-year-old child may ask, “Where do babies come from?” Despite how it sounds, the child isn’t asking you to explain sex, but probably wants to know where, literally, they come from.
It may be enough to explain, “The baby comes from the uterus, which is inside the mother’s belly.” A child who wants to know more will ask.
To start preparing your child for the impending arrival, you could pull out his baby pictures to sift through, or read books about babies and siblings. Another idea is to visit friends that have infants so your child can interact with her.
You should also involve your child in the activities leading up to the birth to get him excited about his new sibling. Let him help you pack a bag for the hospital and ask him to suggest potential baby names. In addition, bring him along to a few doctor visits so he can hear the baby’s heartbeat.
“Explain to your child what’s going to happen in terms they can understand,” said Dr. Adams. “Show your child where the baby is going to sleep, talk about what the baby is going to eat. Tell him what’s going to happen when mommy goes to the hospital.”
You could also look into sibling birth classes, which many hospitals offer to provide orientation for soon-to-be brothers and sisters. These classes can include lessons on how to hold a baby, explanations of how a baby is born, and opportunities for kids to discuss their feelings about having a new brother or sister.
As your due date draws near, try to keep routines as regular as possible. If you plan to make any room shifts to accommodate the baby, do it a few weeks before your due date.
If your child is approaching a major milestone, like potty training or moving from a crib to a bed, try to make those changes well before your due date or put them off until after the baby has been home for a while.
After the baby is born
Once the baby is home, you can help your other kids adjust to the changes. Include them as much as possible in the daily activities involving the baby so they don’t feel left out.
Many kids want to help take care of a new baby. Though that “help” may mean that each task takes longer, it can give an older child a chance to interact with the baby in a positive way.
Depending on your child’s age, a big brother or sister may want to entertain the baby during a diaper change, help push the stroller, talk to the baby, or help dress or bathe her.
If your child expresses no interest in the baby, don’t be alarmed – and don’t force it. It can take time.
“It’s not unusual and may mean the child needs more attention and one-on-one time from you,” Dr. Adams said. “Get him involved in the baby’s care. If you’re feeding the baby, let him help burb her, or read him a story while feeding so he doesn’t feel left out. Also, remind visitors to acknowledge and show attention to her sibling, too.”
Take advantage of chances for one-on-one time with older kids. Spend time together while the baby is sleeping and, if possible, set aside time each day for older kids to get one parent’s undivided attention. Knowing that there’s special time just for them may help ease any resentment or anger about the new baby.
Continue to send your older child to childcare or to school, if you’re able. It’s normal to feel guilty about sending your older child away since now you’re home with the new baby (and if you’re home, you might feel that everyone should be). But keeping normal routines is helpful for siblings. And this time can give you precious one-on-one time with the baby that you might not otherwise have.
When your older child comes home from childcare or school, plan for some quality family time.
With all of the changes that a new baby can bring, some older kids might struggle as they try to adjust.
Encourage older kids to talk about their feelings about the new baby. If a child cannot express those feelings, don’t be surprised if he tests limits or reverts to speaking in baby talk.
If your child acts up, don’t bend the rules, but understand what feelings may be motivating that behavior. It could be a sign that your child needs more one-on-one time with you, but make it clear that although his feelings are important, they have to be expressed in appropriate ways.
“Still set your limits and discipline like you normally would,” said Dr. Adams. “Kids need to feel secure like not much has changed. Be consistent and they’ll eventually get the hint and stop the behavior.”