How to Ease the Transition When Bringing Home a New Little Sibling


Reader Q & A with Dr. Psych Mom:

Candice, a reader who is apparently in the same sinking ship as myself, writes:

I’m about to give birth to my 3rd child in less than a week. I’m nervous for the transition for my girls. They seem really excited and ready to meet their little sister but I’m still scared. Any advice on preparation or what the transition will be like? They are 3.5 and 2.5. Should I have presents for them so it’s not all about the baby?

Candice, you poor soul, having three kids under 4 is no romp through a meadow of daisies, as you are soon going to see.  Been there, done that, and have the shortened life span to prove it.  But in some ways it is easier than two, because a- you just give up on a lot of stuff, and b- the older two turn into a unit and play/fight together without you needing to intervene except sometimes when they attack each other.

So I like personalized shirts.  Some people like meth.

Anyway, turning to your questions.  First I applaud your desire to look out for your other kids, instead of asking, for example, “How the hell am I going to engage in even the most rudimentary level of self-care when taking care of three kids under four?” or “How am I going to lose this baby weight when everyone knows the third baby just destroys your body completely?” or even “What is the best form of birth control from this point onwards?”  So, I can already tell you are a great mom.

In my experience, the kid who was already an older sibling is much more excited and much less conflicted about the birth of #3.  They don’t even remember being the baby anymore.  That ship has sailed and only their later-in-life therapist will have to deal with their emotional trauma due to having no memory of being prioritized.  On a positive note, they are ready and eager to be Mommy’s big special helper, and can actually help.  (Natalia, at 3 1/2, got me a tupperware container of cantaloupe out of the fridge once when I was stuck under a sleeping baby and about to eat off my own arm.)


I have the big sister thing down, mofo.

It is the younger, now middle, child whom you have to look out for the most.  They have just been unceremoniously ousted as the baby.  This child is likely feeling ambivalent about the new baby, both excited and also jealous.  They may hit baby or try to act like a baby themselves, including the dreaded potty training regression.  And watch out for them near baby with sharp objects.

Not feeling it.

Your present idea is good, because anything that gives your older kids attention is helpful.  Read a lot of books about becoming a big sister, like this one: I’m a Big Sister, and compliment them for being big girls and great big sisters.  Lots of people will buy them presents when they buy presents for the new baby, and this will also make them feel good.  Since you have already had two babies and therefore are likely bored by even the idea of discussing the minutiae of newborn sleep and eating habits, you can make a concerted effort to turn visitors’ conversations away from baby and toward how great your two big girls are being as big sisters.  Do this in their earshot but not always directly, as people value overheard compliments more than direct ones.

Another thing that will happen is, if your husband is an involved and attentive father, this will really be his turn to shine.  You can cry in your pillow as your middle child rejects you completely for a while and turns to bask in the glow of Daddy, who doesn’t have a baby stuck to him 24/7.  (Sound of muffled sobbing made worse by post-partum hormones.)  Don’t worry, the middle will come back to you when you can put baby down for a few minutes at a time.  In six months.

So, to recap, yes, buy them stuff, read them books, praise them for big sisterhood, involve Daddy, and hope for the best.  Soon you will have a chaotic wonderful ruckus to contend with, and the amount ofnoise love in the house will be overwhelming.

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