Helping Older Children Adjust to the New Baby in the House
Page Updated on
November 24, 2007
Having a new baby affects everyone in the household, and it can be stressful for big brothers and sisters. It doesn't matter how old they are, whether they'll only be 1 year old when the baby is born or 15 years old, they will experience some stress from the situation.
Before the Baby is Born
Announce that you are having a baby.
There is debate about when the appropriate time to do this is, but I think it should be done as soon as possible. The more warning your kids have, the easier it will be for them to deal with the idea of having a new sibling.
Talk about where babies come from and how they are born.
The level of detail will depend on the age of your older children, but it's important for them to know that there is a baby growing in Mommy's tummy. This will also help them understand that you physically are changing and will need more rest and may not be able to do some of the things you had been doing (like carrying toddlers).
- If the older child will be present for the birth, watch television shows about birth.
There are some great shows about this that can help your children learn what to expect when you go to the hospital. Otherwise, they may be a little scared by the whole ordeal. (This worked out wonderfully with my 1-year-old, who was in the room when I delivered her baby sister. Before the baby even arrived, she saw me in the hospital and said, "Baby." She wasn't afraid of the doctors nor while watching the baby be born. It seemed completely natural to her.)
- Show them their own baby pictures and memorabilia.
They'll get a kick out of it, and they'll get excited about having a new little person around.
- Babysit somebody else's infant.
This will let them get used to the idea of having a baby in the house. They'll get to see how much work a new baby is as well as how much fun it will be.
- Start making transitions ASAP.
If your older child will need to move from the crib to a big bed, to a new room, etc. start phasing that in (slowly one step at a time, so it isn't traumatic). The same goes for childcare, preschool, spending more time with Dad or Grandma, weaning from breastfeeding (if you don't want to feed tandem), and so forth.
Let them help you get ready for the baby.
Take them with you to go shopping for baby stuff. Let them help you decorate the room. Even give them some decisions to make (like which colors the room should be, which outfit to buy, and so forth). This will get them started with those big brother and big sister feelings.
- Let them know it's "our baby."
Don't say "my baby" or "Mommy and Daddy's baby." This new person is a part of the family, "our family," so refer to the baby as "our baby" to let your older kids feel a sense of connection to the new little one.
Get them their own baby dolls. Even boys benefit from this (it helps them learn how to be good Daddies). Show them how to hold a baby, wash a baby, change a baby, etc. using the doll. After the baby is born, I guarantee that younger children will take care of their baby dolls right along side Mommy or Daddy and the new baby.
After Baby is Here
When you see the kids for the first time after the birth of the baby, don't be the one holding the baby.
Older kids often run up to Mom and give lots of hugs. Not holding the baby will avoid any potential of them hurting the baby when they run up to you. Another reason for this is that it helps them move away from thought of baby being more important than them ("Mommy wouldn't let me give her a big hug because she was holding the baby. She must love the baby more than me.").
- Have them make cards or buy presents for the baby.
This helps build the excitement and makes for great memorabilia.
- Give them Big Brother or Big Sister gifts.
Being a big brother or sister is a huge responsibility. Give them some gifts for taking on their new role.
- Tell them how they are such big helpers and involve them in taking care of the baby.
This gives them a sense of responsibility as well as improves their bond with the baby. Plus, you won't have to worry about giving more time to one kid or the other if you are all working together to handle the new tasks because when you work together, the kids feel that they are important to you.
- Tell them to teach the baby to do things she'll eventually learn anyhow.
Teach the baby to smile. Then teach the baby to laugh. Teach the baby to sit up, crawl, wave, etc. Make sure you tell your older child to teach the baby to do things that are developmentally appropriate (you don't want him to try to teach her to walk when she can't even sit up yet; he'll probably end up hurting her). Older siblings can teach the baby by showing them how to do the activity (and if you think they can handle it without hurting the baby, have them move their arms and legs and such). Eventually the baby will do it, and the older children will be so proud of themselves as well as the baby, creating a memorable bonding experience.
Complain about the baby sometimes.
This does not give you permission to gripe about the baby all the time, but it's okay to let your older kids know that taking care of a baby is hard work; plus it will keep them from feeling like you prefer the baby over them (some kids do feel this way when they notice that the baby never gets in trouble and everything she does is "so cute" while they keep getting in trouble; it's important to let them know that the baby isn't perfect too).
Praise your older children. Praise them for helping, for being good big brothers or sisters, for teaching the baby new things, for cleaning up, doing their chores, putting forth effort in school, being calm at the store, and so forth. Let them know that they are important by telling them that you appreciate what they do and are proud of them.
- Spend time with your older children individually.
This is the good ol' quality time. You can spend time with each kid every day (such as before bed) or once a week (such as on special outings). It will let your kids know that you think they are important and you love them so much that you are willing to set aside time just for them.
- Spend time together as a whole family.
The family is a unit, and to function as a unit, you need to spend time together. Remember when you learned about having "school pride" or "team pride" during pep rallies. That's the type of pride you want your family to have, family pride. Your kids will learn that each person in the family is an important part of the family. It will improve bonding and encourage your kids to stick up for each other.