When our second child was born on March 13th 2012, we wondered how our three and a half year old son would react and anticipated that things would be hard for a while. We were right. While he has been very interested and loving towards his baby sister, his overall behavior and development has been out-of-whack. Immediately after returning home from the hospital, we had days of temper tantrums and emotional break-downs. He also went from being totally potty trained to pooping in his underwear five times a day. We struggled with which strategy to take: to discipline or to ignore. The pediatrician told us to ignore the behavior and give it a few weeks. Three weeks later, the frequency has eased, but it still happens.
Other parents I know with more than one child gave me a great piece of advice. They told me to focus on the child that will remember. Babies obviously have needs: they need to be fed, they need to be changed and they need to be loved. However, it’s ok to let the baby wait some times. You don’t want to be constantly telling your older child that you can’t play with him or her because of the baby.
• Keep the routine going. Having a baby join the family is a big thing for another child. Help him/her feel more secure by continuing with the daily routine and regular activities.
• Make sure you have one-on-one time with the older sibling. It’s very easy for Mom to end up focusing on baby and Dad on the older child, but it’s important for Mom to have alone time with the older child. Whether it’s putting him/her to bed at night or having a special activity that only you and him/her do together.
• Encourage the older child to be a helper. Older siblings can help you take care of the baby by fetching diapers and wipes or putting clothes in the hamper.
• Get out baby photos of the older child. Talk to your older child about when he/she was a baby. Talk about the things he/she can do now that he/she couldn’t do as a baby (e.g. eat ice cream, play with trains)
• Teach gentleness in a positive way. Encourage and praise your older child for being gentle with the baby. Avoid saying “no” or “don’t” as much as possible. Show your child how he/she can touch the baby gently.
• Show your child how to play with the baby. It’s often a disappointment for older children that babies aren’t able to play with them when they’re first born. Show your child how he/she can interact with the baby. For example:
• Create a special surprise box. For nursing mothers, a surprise box filled with toys and activities to play with is a good way to distract the older child while you are feeding your baby. Children react well to having a special surprise that they only get when Mom is nursing.
• Faber & Mazlish – “Siblings Without Rivalry”
• Goldenthal, Peter – “Beyond Sibling Rivalry”
• Lansky, Vicky – “Welcoming Your Second Baby”
• Samalin & Whitney – “Loving Each One Best”
• Cole, Joanna - “The New Baby At Your House”
• Cole, Joanna – “I’m a Big Brother/Sister”
• Hiatt, Fred – “Baby Talk”
• Rogers, Fred – “The New Baby”
What are helpful tips you’d share for helping older siblings adjust to a new sibling?
Karen Sams lives in Minnesota with her husband, Jeff, and her two children, Jack (3.5 years) and Grace (3 weeks).