When your family welcomes a new baby into the home, there are a lot of changes to contend with. No matter how prepared you think you are, problems are bound to crop up. One challenge is that older siblings often feel lonely, left out of the action, or afraid they’re no longer lovable. There are strategies for coping when big brothers and big sisters are preparing to meet their new sibling and take on a new role. Here’s a few tips on how you can help children welcome a new sibling.
Help Children Welcome a new Sibling
Set Aside Time for One-on-One Activities
Sometimes, especially if Mom is tied up with nursing the newborn (or just needs a few hours to herself), Dad will take an elder sibling on a special outing to see a movie, get some ice cream, or play in the park. That’s great – but it’s also important not to divide the family on a regular basis. Moms need to make time for their non-newborn children too!
That doesn’t have to mean a big excursion, but it does require handing the baby over to Dad, Grandma, or a BFF so Mom can connect with the older child. Bake something together, do a craft, read a few chapters of a favorite book, go for a walk, or have a backyard picnic. No matter which parent is present with big brother or sister, they should devote their full attention to the child.
A Big Sibling Present
Children love to receive presents – who doesn’t? A gift to say congratulations on becoming a big sister or big brother can go a long way toward mitigating hurt feelings or jealousy. It’s especially good to let heretofore only children know that they’re still an important member of the family, just in a slightly different role now.
This gift shouldn’t be elaborate or over-the-top, and it’s a good idea to stop with one to limit expectations. It could be a coveted toy or stuffed animal to cuddle for toddlers and preschoolers. For school-age children or tweens, consider something that will make them feel a bit more grown up. Great options include decor for their room or stylish clothing like girl rompers or graphic tees. Subscription boxes tailored to their interests are a great option as well. You can also explore intangible gifts, like a later bedtime, for older kids.
Read Books about new siblings
For many children, reading books about a new sibling is a great way to explore the emotions that go along with the shifting family landscape. Younger children will appreciate The New Baby by Mercer mayer and The Berenstain Bears New Baby books.
Older children will appreciate a journal where they record all of their feelings as well as plan for their new sibling.
Get Them Involved…If They Wish
Elder siblings often have mixed emotions about their new little sister or brother. They may be fascinated, curious, and ready to love the baby. Even as they resent the presence of this tiny, needy creature or feel jealous of the attention lavished upon them.
Don’t force a child to interact with the newborn sibling if they’re not ready. But if they do express interest, by all means show them how to hold the baby safely and teach them a few tidbits about infant development. It’s also likely that they’ll have questions about their own babyhood – were they really that small? Did they burp that loudly? — and you should definitely tell them some stories and reminisce.
Enlist Them as a Special Helper
You can also enlist an older child’s assistance, either with baby-related duties or other household chores. Giving them an age-appropriate responsibility can help them feel like a crucial part of the day-to-day routine.
Siblings who are old enough can change the baby’s diapers and clothes. They can also bathe them, rock them, and put them down for a nap. Younger children can fetch burp cloths or binkies. They can also sing lullabies or read books to a sleepy babe, or distract a fussy newborn with a rattle or toy.
Depending on their age and any regular chores they’re responsible for, older kids could also take on general household duties such as feeding the family pets, sorting and folding laundry, setting the table, making a simple meal, or sweeping the floors.
As you navigate life with a growing family, remember that children’s emotions are ever-evolving. They may feel sad, angry, rebellious, or fearful. Those feelings can change on a dime. And they may not even understand why they are feeling that way!
Don’t punish them if they’re not as enamored of the new baby as you are; strong sibling bonds take time. Let your older child set the pace of getting to know the little sister or brother, and give them lots of praise for being gentle, considerate, helpful, and loving with the newborn. For toddlers, be sure to check out these tips for squashing tantrums.