EXPERT ADVICE TO HELP KIDS ADJUST TO A NEW SIBLING.
Adding a new baby to the family is a huge transition, not just for mom and dad, but for big brother or sister, too. Some kids thrive as older siblings without much guidance, while others have a harder time adapting. We spoke with child experts Jody Baumstein, a licensed therapist with Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and Lisa Miller, an associate professional counselor with the Buckhead office of Grow Counseling, to get their insights on making the shift to a “plus one more,” as smooth as possible.
Give Them Time To Prepare
A few months before the due date, start the conversation about the impending arrival. Keep the information as developmentally appropriate as possible. “Say things like, ‘The baby is growing in mommy’s belly.’ Use terms like being a big brother or sister. And then follow their lead. If they want to know more, they will tell you,” Baumstein says.
Use books to explain what it means to be a sibling and expose them to other infants so they can get a sense of what babies are like. “Get some board books or picture books to explain where the baby grows,” Miller says. Dolls can be great tools to show how to take care of a baby, and play can help young children process the news. “We want to give them plenty of time to ask questions, take in all the information and share their feelings,” Baumstein says.
Validate, Don’t Shame Big Feelings
If an older sibling begins acting out, becomes clingy or shows signs of regression— in potty-training or sucking their thumb, for example—don’t punish them. “These are normal, natural reactions to stress,” Baumstein says. “If you think they are looking for attention, give it so they don’t seek it out in negative ways.”
Validate their feelings and be honest about what to expect. Miller suggests creating a safe place in the home where anyone, mom and dad included, can go to calm down when needed. “The caregivers can be role models for the sibling in how to cope with those big emotions,” Miller says.
When it’s time to meet the little one, don’t add pressure to the introduction. “Give them chances to meet the baby while providing lots of guidance and support,” Baumstein says. “If they are uncomfortable, talk it through. Don’t force them.”
Miller suggests doing the sibling introduction at the hospital or somewhere outside the home with just the parents and children. “This allows everyone to walk into the house together as a strong family unit,” Miller says.
Get Them Involved
Getting siblings involved can give them a sense of purpose. Invite an older child to help decorate the nursery or ask a preschooler to hand you a burp cloth or diaper. “Having that helper role, especially for a young child, can be very important and can build confidence,” Miller says.
Don’t Add Unnecessary Stressors
If potty-training or moving out of a crib is around the corner for the older sibling, make the transition far ahead of the due date. If not, wait until everyone is settled in the new phase of life before making big changes.
“You want to avoid anything that is not necessary as far as stressors go,” Baumstein says.
Prioritize One-On-One Time
Spending one-on-one time with your firstborn is important, and it helps curtail jealous behavior. “We want the older child to feel they are still important and cared for,” Baumstein says.
Call on other adult relatives to also help. “Maybe they can take the older sibling out to the park or to get ice cream,” Miller says. And when visitors come to meet the baby, remind them to engage your older child so they don’t feel ignored.
Giannina S. Bedford is multi-faceted writer and editor. Her work covers design, travel, food and business. She’s penned Simply Buckhead’s home feature since inception and held a variety of editorial roles at the magazine. Her freelance work has appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, USA Today, Virtuoso Life, Hemispheres and TravelandLeisure.com. She also contributes regularly Atlanta Business Chronicle. Fluent in Spanish, Giannina was born in Miami and grew up in Brazil, Chile, Hawaii and Australia. She currently lives in Dunwoody with her two kids and husband.