Helping siblings adjust to a new baby
May 17, 2016
Bringing home a new baby can be exciting for brothers and sisters, but it also can rock their world. Suddenly, they’re not the only child or the baby of the family anymore. They may be jealous of all the gifts the new baby is getting, or may begin to exhibit behaviors they’ve grown out of, such as wanting to wear diapers or drink from a bottle.
You can’t predict how your children will react to a new sibling, but there are things you can do to help prepare them for the arrival of a new brother or sister.
I asked an expert in this topic to talk about her experience. Natalie Ganz and her husband, Matt, have three children: Sophie, 4, Macie, 2, and Lincoln, 4 months. The McKinney, Texas, residents have twice prepared siblings for the arrival of a new baby and did a nice job of helping their older children adjust when things didn’t quite go as planned toward the end of Natalie’s pregnancy with Lincoln.
In her own words, here is Natalie’s story and her tips for parents:
How we got our children ready for a new baby in the house
When I was pregnant with our second daughter, our oldest was not quite 2, so she couldn’t really grasp what was happening. That didn’t stop us from talking with her – a lot – about her soon-to-be sister! When Macie was born, we gave Sophie a baby doll that had a bottle and diaper. This allowed her to “help,” and it distracted her while we were feeding and changing the real baby.
When I was pregnant with Lincoln, both girls were more aware of what was happening, and they were very excited to soon have a baby brother. Both girls had “Big Sister” shirts that they were very proud to wear! We involved them as much as possible in getting ready for the baby to arrive. They helped us decorate the nursery, accompanied me to a few doctor’s appointments, and got to feel the baby kick.
As we did the first time, we talked a lot about the new baby. Both girls had baby dolls, and while we used them to help the girls learn how to take care of babies, we warned them that their new brother would be much more fragile than a doll. They had lots of questions, and we answered them as best we could. But my pregnancy with Lincoln presented a few unexpected hurdles in helping the girls get ready for their baby brother.
Helping kids cope while mom and baby were in the hospital
I was admitted to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Plano, Texas, on Dec. 7, 2015, where I spent five weeks before Lincoln was born on Jan. 11, 2016. It had been a great pregnancy up to then, so this was out of the blue.
The girls came to visit me every day, and we decorated my hospital room for Christmas so it felt more like home. Santa visited, and Elf on the Shelf played his pranks in the hospital. The girls asked the doctors questions and they got to hear Lincoln’s heartbeat.
After his birth, Lincoln had to spend four weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). It was hard for the girls to understand why they couldn’t meet Lincoln in person until he came home, but we took lots of photos and they got to Facetime with their new little brother. The NICU also had webcams so we – and our family members – could watch Lincoln when we weren’t at the hospital. It was difficult to be separated from my son when I was released from the hospital, but it was comforting to know I could see him whenever I wanted.
Helping siblings adjust when the baby came home
All in all, we’ve been lucky. Both times, our girls adjusted pretty smoothly to the new additions to the family. As much as we can, we tried to keep things as normal as possible each time our new babies came home. We used some techniques that worked, and, after a few bumps in the road, learned a few more!
When we brought Macie home, Sophie would say, “Will you put her down and play with me?” This time, I’m much more aware of the time I spend with all my children. Obviously, I still hold my son, but I often use a baby carrier so my hands are free to play with the girls or make them food.
Since Lincoln arrived, Macie has wanted to use a pacifier again and has tried to climb into the baby swing. When this happens, we explain to her that these are Lincoln’s things. We also talk about how she is no longer a baby; she is a big girl who gets to do big girl things, like take care of her baby doll or play at the park.
As we did before Lincoln’s birth, we try to keep the girls involved. They love to help with their baby brother. During Lincoln’s bath time, the girls sit next to me and help rub him with the washcloth, and they are in charge of getting his diaper ready when he’s clean.
Helping hands made our family feel special
We couldn’t have done this on our own. Our friends and family have been wonderful in helping the girls adjust to having a new sibling.
At baby showers, they didn’t just bring gifts for the new baby, but for the girls as well. When I was in the hospital and Lincoln was in the NICU, they volunteered to spend time with the girls. When friends with children came to meet the new baby, they brought their kids along so everyone could play.
Friends and family started a meal train, sent gift cards for food, and used food delivery apps to keep us well fed. This not only helped out me and my husband – especially when we were constantly at the hospital – but it was also a lot of fun for the girls. All of this help was a humbling experience. I find it hard to let people help me, but I am so grateful these people are in our lives.
Bringing a new baby home is exciting. But it also can be a little scary – especially for siblings. But we’ve found that with a little extra effort and patience, our little ones have adjusted well and become amazing big sisters!
Even more tips to help siblings adjust to a new baby
No matter their age, it’s important to talk with your children about the baby. Get them excited about a new brother or sister, but make sure they understand that you will still love them as much as you did before.
Every child may react differently. The child’s age, whether they are an only child or already have siblings, and standing in the family (such as oldest or youngest) all factor in to how they may deal with a new family member.
Emphasize that their role as a big brother or sister is important, and their new little sibling will look up to them as they get older. Even though the baby needs a lot of attention right now, mom and dad appreciate their help and patience – as does the baby, even if he or she can’t talk yet!
It can help to make your older children feel special when they have your attention. I have a friend who immediately after the birth of her new baby couldn’t always make it to her older child’s games, but when she did, she would hold a sign from the baby cheering the older child on.
Here are a few more tips for how to prepare your children for the arrival of a new baby:
- Take them to doctor appointments: Not every visit may be appropriate for children to attend, but they may find some interesting. For example, if they are at an ultrasound, we like to point out the baby’s different body parts and send the siblings home with a special photo of their own if possible. At an initial anatomy ultrasound, it may be less than optimal to have small children in the room, but even if the sibling isn’t at the ultrasound, we can still try to get a photo for them.
- Sibling gifts: Give the older children a gift from the baby when the baby is born, and have a few small gifts on hand so when someone brings a present for the baby, the older child can get something as well.
- Plan a special date day: Babies take up a lot of mom and dad’s time. It’s easy for an older child to feel left out. Carve out a little alone time with each child to remind them they are still special.
- Keep routines stable: I realize this may not always be possible, but when so much is changing for a little one, routine helps. For example, if you always used to sing to your child before they went to sleep, try to keep doing it. Older children especially can sometimes feel like a baby is encroaching on their lives and activities. Come up with way to ensure kids get to their activities around the baby’s feeding and nap schedule. Friends or family members are often looking for a way to be helpful, and this can be a good way to involve them.
- Ask how they’re feeling: Some kids may not tell you something is wrong unless you ask, or they may not know how to verbalize their feelings. Check in with them from time to time. Do you like the baby? What do you like? What don’t you like?
- Maintain safety: If you have young children, they may not always know how to behave appropriately around a baby. If they throw a ball at their new sibling, it likely isn’t intentional. Explain that they need to be gentle with the baby.
- Explain breastfeeding: How you discuss this will depend on the child’s age. For young children who are confused about what you’re doing, you could tell them, “Moms have a special gift. They can feed baby from their body, and it means that I have to spend some quiet time with the baby.” You can ask them to sit next to you and read to you and the baby during feedings, or have them help getting a diaper for the next change.
If your child is still struggling to adjust to the new family member, talk to their pediatrician. Your child is not the first to have these problems, and the pediatrician will be able to give you advice based on your child’s age and development.
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