Preparing an Older Sibling

From The Dapple Dish
5/20/13

Along with the thrill of welcoming a new baby into the family, the stress of the change can wreak havoc on everyone involved, especially the child who is about to become the big brother or big sister. While grandparents, extended family members, and friends readily express their excitement about the newborn, the older sibling can be inadvertently overlooked and as a result can experience anger and upset as he learns that he will no longer be the sole recipient of all of his parents’ love, affection, and attention. Here are some tips to help make this time of adjustment go as smoothly as possible:

Preview, preview, preview.
Buy and read books together about becoming an older sibling. Explain what the baby will be like when it comes home from the hospital. Describe how lucky the baby will be to have your older child as a big brother or big sister. Talk to your child about what they were like as a baby, and show them pictures of when they were born.

Plan for any other major adjustments to occur ahead of time. There is nothing more upsetting to a child than rushing their transition to a big bed, perhaps before they are ready, because you need the crib for the baby. Months ahead of time, begin to transition your toddler to a bed. If any other developmental milestones are on the horizon, such as toilet training or starting school, plan accordingly so that your child is given sufficient time work through developmental milestones at their own pace.

Validate their feelings.
Give your older child the space to express their feelings, whether positive or negative, because both types of reactions are normal. Also, it is common for a big sibling to regress in some way as they cope with changes to the family structure.

Once the baby arrives, make the event about the older sibling.
Give the older sibling undivided attention when they are first introduced to the baby – the infant won’t know any different. Then introduce the infant and give the new big sibling a present from the baby. If your older child is not coming to the hospital, make sure the older sibling is home before the baby arrives home, so they feel in control

Get your family members and friends on board.
Ask other adults in your life to attend to your older child first when they come to visit the baby. They should tell the toddler that the baby is lucky to have such a wonderful big brother or sister.

Affection, affection, affection.
While the baby will feel taken care of simply by being fed and cuddled, your older child will need much reassurance during this time. Cuddle, read stories, and talk to them about their day, every day.

Encourage positive interactions between the two.
Let your older child be as involved as he or she would like in the daily care of the baby, whether that means helping to change a diaper, feeding the baby a bottle, getting mom a new burp cloth, or simply giving the baby a kiss.

Don’t fret if the initial welcome is not so welcoming.
Even with all of these strategies, some children will need more time to get used to the idea of a new baby in their lives and the changes to their own daily routine. Remember that negative feelings and reactions on the part of the older sibling are common and that your child needs to be heard. Validate their feelings and let your older child know they are loved and accepted even though they may be having a hard time. Give them space from the baby if they need it. Once they feel validated and are given the attention they need, older children should adjust to the new arrival just fine.

Marla Baum, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist specializing in neuropsychological assessment and treatment of toddlers, children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD, learning disabilities, and emotional difficulties. She conducts remediation, organizational coaching, individual child therapy, and parenting sessions. Marla has a private practice in Manhattan, and she is married with two amazing sons ages nine and six. Marla can be contacted at baumpsyd@gmail.com.

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