Adding another child to your family? Congrats!! If you’re reading this, I’m sure you or someone you know is having some normal anxiety about how your child will adjust to the role of “Big Brother ” or “Big Sister”. There are many great ideas and tips out there on how to prepare your little one for this big, important job! Hopefully, some of the tips we provide in this article will help to ensure a smoother transition!
Just as each child is unique, so too is their response to a new sibling in their home! If you know your child’s temperament and personality you may be able to (possibly) predict how they will respond…and then again, you may be thrown for a loop!
- While baby is in your tummy, use this time to read stories about being a big brother or sister. Young children absorb so much information through books and this is a great way to help prepare them! Be sure to continue reading these books after brother or sister comes home as well!
- Practice gentle hands: If you have a pet you can demonstrate “gentle” hands over and over again and provide praise, hi-fives or hugs when they can show you what gentle looks like. You can also begin practicing “gentle” through allowing your child to touch your belly. They may be excited to feel the baby kick even if they don’t fully grasp the concept! You can also give your child a doll to practice being gentle with! (Side Note: It is PERFECTLY OK for your son to use a baby doll! In fact, research has shown it’s very healthy for their development! Playing with dolls can help boys become more empathetic and affectionate as they grow older, and it doesn’t affect their development negatively in any way!)
- Set up a changing station for your child to care for their “baby” (baby doll) while you care for your newborn. Without fail, right when you need to change a diaper or feed the baby your toddler is going to need your attention right at that moment! If you set up a little area near you with a changing pad, a couple of diapers, washcloth, and a bottle you can invite your toddler to join you in changing or feeding their baby doll while you tend to the baby! Some children love a challenge so make it fun by making a race to see who can change their baby the fastest!
- Make a Busy Box: Have a special bin of books, puzzles, blocks, paper and stickers, etc. that your child doesn’t get to play with as often so that when it’s time for you to turn your attention to the baby, you can offer your child the busy box and their attention is drawn to the activities provided. Rotate the items out to keep interest levels up!
- Set a timer to give your toddler a visual of how long it will be until you are done caring for the baby. (But be prepared for them to ask multiple times if “time is up yet”!) Or, have them sing through their favorite song and see if you can finish the task before they get to the end of the song. It keeps them engaged in the interactions while allowing you freedom to have two hands to complete the task at hand!
- Some siblings will be eager to help, hold, kiss and love on their sibling but it is also important to prepare yourself for your child to be more hesitant than you may have planned on! Try not to force your child to interact with the baby until they are ready to! My oldest was over the moon in love with her baby sister but was very hesitant to hold her and in fact, did not do so until our baby was one month old! We would offer opportunities for her to interact with the baby and accepted her limits letting her know it was alright to decline and that when SHE was ready THAT would be the “perfect time” for her. She was the most awesome diaper changing “supervisor” out there! Respecting her personality and temperament while allowing her to set the pace for interactions undoubtedly helped her adjust better rather than forcing her into a situation that made her nervous or uncomfortable. Plus, it made it that much more special for us when she did finally ask to hold her!
“My toddler is adjusting SO well to our new baby and hasn’t shown any signs of jealousy at all!”
…Then get prepared: Often times children will show no signs of jealousy or regression in behaviors when a baby joins the family those first couple of months. HOWEVER, when that tiny newborn who mostly sleeps, eats, poops, and sleeps some more develops a charming smile and begins engaging with others around them don’t be surprised to see your toddler begin to struggle with the adjustment at this point in time. Another set back phase is when that cute little baby brother or sister becomes mobile and is now able to get into your toddler’s belongings! Name and normalize these feelings of jealousy for your toddler in order to help them understand what they are feeling. Some kids get very excited that their sibling can now interact with them and tend to get a little over zealous. Before you know it you are fussing at them to “stop” and “don’t do that!” Instead, tell your child what they CAN do with their sibling such as roll a ball or read a book. Minimizing your reprimands of your toddler and focusing instead on teaching and coaching them through appropriate play interactions can help keep them from resenting their new sibling as well as foster a strong bond!
Katerie Breuer, MSW, LCSW, LISW-CP