Becoming a big brother or sister is exciting for any kid — but can be tough too. No matter how well you’ve prepared your child, there is still an acclimation period when reality sets in. We recently welcomed our second child into our family, and while we had done a good job of preparing our older son for the fact he would be a big brother, he still had to come to terms with the fact that he no longer got all mom and dad’s attention, among other changes.
Here are 7 things I’ve learned so far for helping siblings adjust to a new baby:
1. Start Early – Preparing a child to be an older sibling starts before the new baby arrives. Throughout my pregnancy, my son and I read books about babies. We talked about the baby growing in my belly, how baby was “eating and drinking” through the umbilical cord, and how baby would “come out” when he had grown big and strong. Interestingly, one of the most helpful books we ended up reading was a photo documentary about baby puppies being born.
2. Be Patient – No matter how excited your child is, there will be a time when reality sets in. You will have to deal with some behavior issues that express frustration and confusion with the change. The constant demands of a baby (nursing, diapering, etc) can make it seem like you give more “attention” to the baby than you do to the older child. Make sure to reinforce how much you love the older child often, even if it seems obvious to you — it may not be to your child in that moment.
3. Set Aside “Special Time” – Your older child still needs your undivided attention. It can be tough to find time with a newborn in arms, but whenever you can work in extra hugs and snuggles, your child will appreciate it. Once my newborn falls asleep, I typically put baby down and snuggle up on the couch with my toddler for a good book reading session. Or, sometimes we play legos.
4. Listen – With all the changes, it’s important to listen to what your older child tells you. Their words and actions express how they are feeling, and it’s important to reaffirm your love for them, their importance, and the fact that you care just as much about them as you do about baby.
5. Ask for Help – Older siblings can be a big help when it comes to taking care of baby. My son is so proud to be a big helper and “watch” his little brother. While he doesn’t always want to help, I frequently have a diaper fetcher, a blanket gatherer, or a baby mobile winder if I only ask for help. Being able to help makes kids feel useful, it engages them in caring for their little sibling, and helps them interact with baby too.
6. Get Outdoors – For us, at least, getting outdoors or being active as a family does wonders. My older son is thrilled to be on the move, and baby is pretty easy to cart along too. It’s amazing what difference a little big of fresh air makes for everyone’s disposition.
7. Plan Ahead – kids get cranky and don’t behave as well when they are tired or hungry. Hey, we all are guilty of that, right? So, as a parent, it’s important for me to keep on top of naptime and bedtime, as well as mealtimes, so that we all can function to the best of our abilities. It doesn’t do anyone any good to forget breakfast and have to deal with meltdowns all morning. Keeping on top of the physical needs of yourself and your children is an easy way to reduce meltdowns.
Numerous books can be (and have been) written about how to help siblings adjust to a new baby, but hopefully these 7 tips will help you in your journey as a parent of multiple kids. I know that adjusting to a new sibling takes time, and there will continue to be bumps in the road for us. But, the blessings outweigh the difficulties. It has been wonderful to see my older son gently kiss and hug his brother, to hear him say “I love you” to his baby, and to listen as he tells me how he will protect his little brother and “keep him safe.”
Parenting is a journey of trial and error. There will be meltdowns, there will be tears. But love is the undercurrent that ties us all together, that makes these difficulties be worth it. Helping your older child adjust is just part of welcomng a new baby to the family. You do the best you can, and grace will cover the rest.
Betsy Finn lives in Michigan with her husband, two boys, and two cats (Betsy’s story). You can read more of her thoughts on life and creative musings at BPhotoArt.com. There, Betsy blogs about a hodgepodge of topics including fine art and portrait photography, parenting, capturing memories, and finding contentment in the journey of life. You can also find Betsy on Facebook,Twitter,Google+,Pinterest,and Instagram.