Welcoming a new baby is a joyful and special time for a family, but it can be a difficult adjustment for a brand-new big sibling. Luckily there are a few things parents can do to ease the transition.
1Know that it's perfectly normal if your child has a hard time with the new baby.
Parenting writer Janet Lansbury explains so well why this time might be hard for your older child:
A new baby causes a major shift in the family dynamics. No matter how much the older child may have wished for a baby brother or sister, the reality of this shift in the parents’ attention and affection is felt as a loss. Children often feel grief, sadness and sometimes anger or guilt, but mostly they are fearful of losing their parents’ love. Overwhelmed by this tumultuous blend of emotions, which are nearly impossible for children to understand (much less articulate), they act out their pain through irritating behaviors that are sometimes aggressive. Mood swings can be extreme.
Even the most mild-mannered and easygoing of children may struggle at times with the changes to the family routine and dynamic that a new baby brings. Your toddler isn’t a monster if he tries to hit the baby with a toy truck or screams for her to “go away!” He’s a little person dealing with very big feelings in the face of a disorienting shift.
Lansbury recommends encouraging your child to express those feelings and offering suitable outlets. She suggest saying something like,
“Being a big sister is very hard sometimes. It’s normal to get angry at the baby or at mom or dad, feel sad, worry or just be upset and not know why. If you feel any of those things I want to know. I will always understand, love you and want to help you.”
Acknowledging how your older child feels and affirming how very special he is to you will go a long way to help.
2Corral non-messy activities for your older child.
Once you have two or more little ones to take care of, you might feel like you don’t have enough hands. The next best thing is having a stockpile of engaging and non-messy activities to keep your older child busy while you nurse the baby, take a two-minute shower, put baby down for a nap, or even drink your coffee while it’s still hot (dream big!).
There are so many ideas for toddler busy bags online and on Pinterest. My own kids like Water Wow, Magnadoodle, lift-the-flap books, a latches board, puzzles, and stickers. You can pull together activities and toys you already have at home, and put them in a spot your little one can’t reach so you can deploy them as needed.
3Have easy-to-serve toddler snacks and water ready at all times.
This is a lesson I learned the hard way, so hopefully you can learn from my experience! Pull together a stash of easy toddler snacks: string cheese, Cheerios, applesauce and yogurt pouches (if you’re worried about the pouch squirting everywhere, you need these genius pouch toppers with a flow control valve to prevent spills), or whatever your kiddo likes to eat that doesn’t require prep.
The last thing you need to deal with is a hangry toddler screaming and kicking you in the shins while you’re trying to get the baby down for her nap, so plan accordingly. Keep a filled water bottle in the fridge too.
4Prepare your child for their new role as a big helper.
While your child won’t really understand what it’s like to be a big sibling until the baby is here, you can help prepare them as much as possible. Playing with a baby doll, perhaps with a little bottle, stroller, or doll carrier, gives your child a chance to imitate Mommy and Daddy.
It helps to read books about being a big sibling: My family really likes I’m A Big Brother and its companion book I’m A Big Sister. We also like the Daniel Tiger TV show episodes about becoming a big brother, with the encouraging message, “You can be a big helper in your family!”
5When baby arrives, teach your child how to care for the baby.
A new sibling may feel left out by all the fuss over the new arrival, but you can empower older siblings by giving them age-appropriate responsibilities to care for “our baby.” One easy job for kids of any age is burping the baby: An energetic toddler loves to thump baby on the back. Siblings can also pick out an outfit for the baby, fetch diapers, help rub baby with lotion, read to the baby, help give baby a bath, or do a puppet show for baby during tummy time.
A baby brings changes, but hopefully these suggestions will help every member of your family with the transition, so the joy of the occasion stays at the forefront. With some patience and planning, it can be a peaceful adjustment.