Our newest family member was born 7 weeks ago and it’s been tough. He joins two older sisters, ages 7 and 5, and a big brother who is almost 3. Our baby is doing great – sleeping well and eating like a champ. The problem? Our almost 3-year-old son has had a very hard time adjusting to a new baby in the house.
Before the baby was born he had been going around the house, with arms crossed, saying “Don’t want a brother.” Now he lovingly kisses his little brother and says “I love you baby” and he can’t resist wanting to hold other little babies that we meet. However, he has also been acting out and having more tantrums than normal. I am not too worried about his behavior, mostly because I have seen my 2 daughters follow a similar behavior pattern before and after a new sibling arrived. Nonetheless, his negative behavior is challenging.
As a matter of fact, many of the mothers that I have spoken to about this topic agree that most older siblings go through an adjustment period when introducing a new baby into the family. The family spends time preparing for the new baby’s arrival and once the baby arrives so much time is dedicated to just meeting the baby’s needs. That’s a lot of change taking place!
I asked some of my friends and other moms what advice seemed to work best to help their older children adjust to the addition of a new baby in the house. The following suggestions are most helpful for children up to the pre-teen years.
Tip 1: Discuss Pregnancy in Terms That Makes Sense to Kids
- Read books about pregnancy, birth and newborns with your child. Check out your local library or bookstore for age-appropriate books you may enjoy with your child.
- Take out your child’s ultrasound and newborn pictures – they will love looking at them! Tell them about their birth, how excited you were for his arrival and how everyone wanted to hold him.
- Tell your child about the pregnancy when you tell your friends. You want them to hear the good news from you.
- Young children may not be able to grasp when the baby will arrive, so it may be useful to explain that the baby will arrive in a particular season (e.g. when it’s cold outside) or after a major holiday.
Tip 2: Include Children in Baby Preparations
- Allow your child to help you pack your hospital bag.
- Visit friends who have infants.
- Consider taking your child to your doctor visits to give him the chance to hear the baby’s heartbeat and see the ultrasound.
- Check with your local hospital for sibling preparation classes.
- Have your child help you pick out a special coming outfit (from two you’ve preselected, of course).
- You may want to buy your toddler-age child a baby doll and have him practice holding and gently touching the doll, just like he would with his newborn sibling.
- Allow your child to pick out a small toy or other gift that he can give to his newborn sibling when they meet for the first time.
Tip 3: Make Arrangements to Meet Older Sibling’s Needs
- Make sure that major changes – weaning, toilet training, a new room – happen well before the baby arrives.
- For older children, explain to them that the baby will not be able to do much at first, that you may feel tired and the baby will require a lot of your time.
- Arrange play dates for your child with close friends or relatives outside of your home, if possible, soon after the baby arrives.
- Try to keep routines as normal as possible in the weeks around the baby’s arrival.
- Try to have your child meet the new baby as soon as possible after his arrival. It’s best to do this when only the immediate family is at the hospital.
- Let your child “help” with age appropriate tasks once the baby arrives, like getting diapers, feeding, helping dress the baby, or pushing the stroller.
- If possible, arrange for some one-on-one time each day with your child after the baby arrives and talk about things besides the new baby.
- It’s okay for your child to need to take time to adjust to the new baby. Encourage older children to talk about their feelings about their new sibling.
- Younger children who may not be able to articulate their feelings about the new change appropriately and instead may act up or test the rules, but stand firm – just try to understand the feelings behind their behavior. Make it clear that you understand their feelings, but that their feelings must be expressed in appropriate ways.
- You may want to consider having a small present ready to give to your young child when he meets the baby for the first time – a small gift from the baby to the child.