There’s no doubt the adults in your house are excited about the arrival of a newborn, but many new parents are surprised to learn their older children don’t necessarily share their sense of excitement. Depending on your existing children’s ages, their reactions can include a combination of emotions: insecurity, anxiety, and resentment as well as excitement and pride. Here are some tips for building solid sibling bonds from those first moments.
For young children, talk about the new baby in simple and easy-to-understand terms. Before the new baby arrives, you can look at baby picture books with your child. As soon as the baby is born, be sure to introduce your toddler to the baby as soon as possible in the hospital. Once home, make extra efforts to include your older child in your new baby routines, such as changing diapers or swaddling the baby. It is also especially important to set aside “alone” time that is special for just the two of you so your toddler doesn’t feel replaced. Don’t expect your toddler to be able to explain feelings of anxiety and resentment. Behavioral changes toward the new baby or extra clinginess is perfectly normal and will fade as everyone gets used to the changes in the home.
For children in the preschool years, the passage of time is not quite clear in their minds. Unless you want to be asked constantly “When is the baby coming?” throughout your pregnancy, wait a little bit to tell your older child that they’re getting a little brother or sister. For this age group, it is often helpful to display a picture calendar so you can point to it and say things like, “Baby will be coming here, after Thanksgiving.”
If your local hospital offers sibling classes, these are a great way to introduce the older child to the idea of a new baby. You might also choose a similar-sized doll for your pre-schooler to “practice” holding and dressing. Be honest with your child—new babies are cute and adorable, but they also can be fussy and require a lot of attention. Include your pre-schooler in setting up the nursery and picking out clothes and toys for them. As with all age groups, reserve some special alone time for just you and your older child when the new baby comes along. Occasional regression and crankiness when the new baby comes home for the first time is normal, but remember this will pass as everyone settles into their new roles.
Older children have stronger verbal skills and may feel less threatened by a new baby. Help them feel part of the pregnancy process by letting them take part in decisions like the color or theme of the baby’s room. When you deliver the baby, have your child come to the hospital shortly afterward to be in the room almost from the start, to begin the bonding of your “new” and expanded family.
Having a new baby is a big transition for all of you. No matter the age, with some planning and communication, your children can grow up with unique and wonderful bonds.
- How you tell your child about your new family member depends on their age group.
- Be honest with your children that the new baby won’t be able to play games right away—and may not always be sleeping and quiet.
- Make sure to set aside alone time with each of your other children.
- Have you older children take a sibling class at the hospital.
We thought about how to introduce our newborn, Graham, to his big brother, Ben, (2 1/2) very carefully. We had Ben pick out a present for Graham that he would bring to him in the hospital. Graham also reciprocated and gave Ben a present as well. It was a great way to introduce them. Ben was very hesitant around his brother when we brought him home. He didn’t touch him and he was pretty much ignored. It seems there are a few different ways a toddler can react when a new sibling arrives. I’ve heard of them completely acting out and possibly getting rough with the new baby, regressing using the bathroom (urinating and pooping in their pants) and refusing to sleep. Ben ended up refusing sleep. It was an incredibly difficult couple of weeks for us. My husband and I were so very tired and needed the sleep when we could get it, but Ben screaming and crying from his room until at least midnight made that impossible. We finally got through it and got back into a routine. He slowly got used to his new brother and of course they are inseparable now.