The arrival of a new baby can be threatening to an older sibling. After being the sole apple of parents’ eyes, a new “creature” suddenly taking all the attention can trigger jealousy, anger and sadness. Younger children may fear that parents will no longer love them once the new baby settles in. They may also develop resentment over having to give up certain things, like sole use of a a bedroom or a particular game or activity.
What can parents do to help their young children adjust to the arrival of a new baby? Consider the following tips:
Prepare Your Children
The best way to buffer a child’s anxiety is to not blindside them with the changes that are coming. In the last trimester of pregnancy, inform your children what to expect. Show them pictures and videos of infant development – your library and the internet are great resources! Emphasize that babies are helpless, and therefore will need a lot of mommy and daddy’s care (just as they did at that stage): they need to be fed, held, changed, burped, dressed, bathed and all the rest. Let them know that it won’t always be that way because babies turn into toddlers and kids who can feed themselves, dress themselves and use the toilet.
Give Your Children Responsibilities
Kids may feel less left out, if they know they have a role to play in the new family structure. New responsibilities can make children feel needed – indispensable and appreciated – unlike the baby who just cries and cries! Kids can assist in many ways; during feeding, bathing and dressing the baby. Just remember to thank and compliment them for a job well done! Also, if these “helpers” are little guys themselves, make sure to allow them to continue to be little in their own right. A two year old, for instance, is not a big girl! She is “Mommy’s best little helper.” When a toddler or pre-schooler is allowed to enjoy the benefits of littleness even though a baby has entered the family, the young child suffers much less. She is not “de-throned” or promoted beyond her stage of life. She continues to be loved and coddled as the little person she truly is, even though there is now an even littler person in the house as well.
Highlight the Positive
It’s fine to talk about the benefits of siblings that will eventually come. Remember – it takes a really long time (especially from a child’s perspective) before a sibling can become a fun playmate. However, it is certainly something to look forward to. “Just think – one day you and little Joe will be able to play ball together! Won’t that be fun?”
Explain Why Rules can be Bent for the Baby
One of the common causes of resentment against a new baby is perceived preferential treatment. A 7 month old baby who accidentally breaks his or her older sibling’s toy is not likely to be reprimanded; after all, what does the baby know? Instead, the older sibling may even get the brunt of the blame, for handing the toy to the baby to begin with! It’s important then for parents to explain to their older children that babies are not accountable for what they do, and it’s up to bigger people to make sure that they do not get in harm’s way.
Spend Quality Time with Your Older Children While You Hold the Baby
Jealousy can be minimized if parents ensure that they don’t neglect their older children. It’s understandable that parents are overwhelmed and exhausted after bringing a new baby into the family. However, the other child or children still need so much parental attention. Put the baby on your lap and invite the others around for storytime. Or, put the baby in the stroller and take the others to the park. Or, wear the baby in a carrier and take the others to the mall. Babies just need to be held, and older children just need to be interacted with – so it can all happen at the same time. There is no need to leave the baby at home while you take the others out. In fact, this can increase insecurity in the other children as they see for themselves that you are willing to abandon your infant. Little kids are more than happy to have the baby come along and be involved in all their activities. They love the feeling of being one big happy family.
New Mothers Need Extra Rest
Sometimes this temporary absence leaves toddlers and pre-schoolers feeling abandoned. One way around this is to invite little ones to lie down for nap time in Mom’s room (if they’re the cooperative types) or to make sure they are with a favorite babysitter or engaged in a special activity while Mom naps. This may be the time to invest in a new toy, craft kit, computer game or video.
Remember to “Gush” Over the Toddlers as Well as the Baby
One way to do this is to talk to the baby “through” the toddler. “Look Tara! Do you see that cute face baby Jon just made? Isn’t he funny?” This is preferrable to ignoring Tara while talking directly to the baby. In the latter scenario, Tara is likely to feel ignored or less important or less adored; her “solution” might be to try to get your attention inappropriately.
Cut Them Some Slack When They Act Out
When there is a new baby in the household, kids may act-out to demand your attention. They may regress behaviorally, and act as if they are infants themselves. They may misbehave at home or school. Understand that all these mini-rebellions are just means of expressing their upset feelings (confusion, fear, sadness and anger); be extra patient and ignore the bad stuff as much as you can for a couple of months. Once the baby has become “old news,” you can return to normal standards of discipline.