From the Midwife: How to Handle Sibling Adjustment
The addition of a new family member – whether it is your first child or your fifth – affects everyone. Understanding that the older siblings need time to adjust is crucial. The ease of the sibling’s transition has more to do with their personality and ability to transition to any change in their life than it has to do with their gender or the number of years between them. Bringing a new baby into your older child’s life may be one of the most challenging things s/he has had to deal with up until now, but it eventually will also be one of the greatest gifts you can give them.
Take some time helping to prepare them ahead of time can help them set up appropriate expectations and allow for feelings to be shared.
- Tell your child about your pregnancy when you tell your friends. They should hear about it from you directly and not ‘overhear’ it or learn about it from someone else.
- Bring them to some prenatal visits to meet your birth provider, hear the heart beat, and be able to ask questions.
- Describe what life will like in the early days with the baby: they will sleep a lot, cry, breastfeed, need to be held and have their diaper changed. You will need to spend a lot of time with the baby. The baby won’t be able to play with them and they won’t need to share their toys – in the beginning.
- Try spending some time around a new baby with your child – at daycare or with a friend or family member with a new baby.
- Share pictures, videos and stories about the birth and babyhood of your older child. Tell them about their birth and what they were like as a baby. Express how excited you were when they were born and how everyone wanted to see them and hold them.
- Talk about how much you love them and not matter what you will always love them. This may seem obvious to you but stating it out loud, a few times in different ways is important for your older child to hear. Losing your love is what they fear the most.
- Teach them how to hold a baby and practice holding and gentle touching with a baby doll.
- Include them in any preparations they can – giving them choices whenever possible: such as which outfit should you bring the baby home in (A or B), picking out a gift for them to give the baby, choosing the color of the new car seat, etc.
- Read books together about pregnancy, birth, adoption and new baby siblings.
- If you are considering having your older child present at the birth – talk with your midwife about this. Many families have found this to be a very positive experience but it is not necessarily right for every family. Extra preparation should happen around what to expect at the birth, watching videos of birth and the child will need their own support person who can take them out if they become over whelmed. Saving an age appropriate job for them is special such as cutting the cord or putting on the baby’s hat.
Once your new baby is here there are ways to help your older child adjust:
- Plan a birthday party for the day you get home. Have a frozen ice cream cake in the freezer or have a family member or friend get one for that day, have balloons, and a “0” candle. Sing Happy Birthday to the baby and have the older sibling give the baby a gift AND have the baby give them one. It brings home the meaning of what a BIRTH day really is while creating a celebration for the whole family.
- “Love bomb” the older sibling. Have people special to the older child be around more in the first week or two to fill in for the attention that you would normally give him or her.
- Set aside time each day (away from the baby) for each parent to give uninterrupted one-on-one time with the older child. Even 10 minutes of focused attention has an amazing effect of showing them how you still love them and they are important. Let them chose the activity and you follow their lead.
- Listen – really listen – to how your child feels about the new baby and the changes in your family. If they express negative emotions, acknowledge them. Help your child put words to their feelings. Never deny or discount their feelings.
- Create ways for them to express negative feelings – draw an angry picture, act out feelings towards a doll or roar like a lion – but hurting is not allowed!
- “Baby” your older child if that is what they crave. This may help stave off regression in other areas that are less acceptable to you. You may think your older child will become more independent when the baby comes home but often it is not the case. Expect less independence and you may get more.
- Remind visitors to pay attention to the older child (and not just the baby)
- Have a few extra treats/gifts in the closet in case friends bring gifts for the baby and the older child feels left out.
- Find jobs and creative ways the older child can help you: baths, dressing, pushing the stroller, putting silverware away from the dishwasher, helping vacuum, running to get the book to read while you breastfeed, etc. Follow your child’s lead on this and be careful not to overdo it. Any chance you can give the older child choice and power in their life, the more they feel in control – and less likely to act out for attention and power.
- Talk about the ways being older is beneficial – they can chose what to eat, can go to the park and play, having friends, etc.
- Read books together about families in transition – any time you can talk about and acknowledge their mixed up feelings & that they are all normal and ‘ok’ the better they can negotiate the roller coaster of change.