Introducing a New Baby

The birth of a baby is a joyous occasion, one to be celebrated, but one that can create trepidation in the hearts of mothers who fear their older child will not respond well to a new brother or sister. Many moms and dads worry about the older child feeling “deserted.” They may also feel they won’t have enough time for the child when the new baby arrives. Part of their concern centers around the fear they have that the older child will experience negative reactions to the young sibling.

All parents experience some of those concerns at one time or another, but it’s good to remember that it’s not our job to ensure the older child won’t be jealous, angry, or frustrated by a new sibling—those feelings are inevitable in any person’s or child’s life. What parents can and should do is to give the older child assistance in adjusting to his or her new role as a big brother or big sister. Here are some ways to smooth the arrival of a new baby.

Before the baby comes home, have realistic expectations of what life will be like. You won’t be able to provide instructions ahead of time to the older sibling for all the contingencies that will happen once the new baby is home. Do what you can, but know you can’t cover every possibility—and then don’t sweat it. Children have become siblings since time began, and it’s not always been a traumatic occurrence.

During your pregnancy, share age-appropriate details about the baby. No matter the age, a child doesn’t need to know about a potential brother or sister right away. Keep in mind that nine months is a long time to a child, so the shorter amount of time she has to anticipate the birth, the better for everyone. Be open to questions about the baby and his arrival, making sure to answer the question being asked—not the one you think you heard. Many times, children are being very literal with their queries or have a totally different idea in mind than we would think, so probe a bit before tackling the answer to ensure you’re on the same page. Discuss any fears or worries the child may have about having another human being in the home. Common questions include, “Where the baby sleep?” and “Will you and Daddy still love me when the baby’s born?”

To help make the baby more real, ask your child to help you get ready for the infant’s arrival by preparing the baby’s room. A toddler can stack diapers, while a preschooler can sort baby board books. Older children can assist with painting, assembling the crib, and putting away baby clothes. Involving the children in the preparation process also gives them “buy-in” to the baby’s arrival. Do remind the child that the baby will cry and sleep a bunch when he first comes home. This can prepare the child for the boredom of babyhood, at least as it will be seen from her perspective.

Decide who will care for your child during the delivery, and let the child know the plan well in advance. If it will be with someone the child doesn’t see regularly, try Skyping or other forms of communication to put the child more at ease with the relative or friend. If possible, have the person come stay with you a few days before the baby’s due date. If the child will be staying at someone else’s house, have her pack a to-go bag like the one you’ll be taking to the hospital or birthing center. Be sure to include her favorite stuffed toy or security blanket so she will feel safe.

Once the baby is born, have your husband bring the child to the hospital to visit you and the baby, if possible. If not, call the older child or video-conference her on your cell phone so that she can see you and her new sibling. Help the new baby “introduce” himself to your older child, such as saying, “Peter, meet your big sister, Anna.” Some parents also have the baby “give” the older sibling a small gift.

When you come home with the new baby, give your child time to get acquainted with her brother or sister. Don’t expect the child to go googly-eyed over the newborn. Despite your preparation, she’s probably expecting more than a red-faced, crying baby who takes up more of your time than she anticipated. Give the older child space to develop her own opinion of the baby.

The Do’s With a New Baby
In general, there are some things you could do to help the older child more accepting of the baby. Do encourage her to help you care for the newborn. She can bring you diapers, blankets, pacifiers, and burp clothes. She can rock the baby in a swing or cradle, watch the baby on the floor, and pat the baby’s hands when the baby fusses.

Do include the older child in the baby routines, such as reading to her sometimes when you’re nursing the baby or singing silly songs while you’re changing the baby’s diaper. Those little touches can make an older child feel more connected to both you and the baby.

Do give the older child one-on-one attention each day. Even five minutes of snuggle time without the baby can be enough to show the child her mommy hasn’t forgotten her. But don’t be overly concerned if some days you can’t manage even that because you’re too tired or the baby fussed all day.

Do ask your husband to spend a bit more time with the older child, such as reading her a story before bed or letting her help him with the household chores. This also is a great way for a dad to feel helpful and connected since the majority of the infant’s care tends to fall on the mom.

Do show the older child how to interact with the baby, such as where she can touch him, how to hold him, and what to give him or not give him. Be patient as the child learns to be gentle. Remember that with a toddler or preschooler, you’ll have to repeat the instructions often.

Do expect some regression from the older child. Some children start sucking thumbs again, wanting a bottle , or carrying around a blanket when a newborn arrives at home. This phase will not last forever, so don’t worry about the infantile behavior. To curb some of those tendencies, remind the older child of what she can do that the baby can’t, such as ride a bike, eat ice cream, and not take as many naps.

Do remind her of her own special place in the family. With everyone oohing and ahhing over the baby, an older child can feel left out. Telling her from time to time what makes her unique, such as her position as first born or her sparkly blue eyes, will help her remember that she is loved. You should also talk to her about all the things she will be able to show the baby one day—how to tie shoes, read a book, or play Go Fish.

Do keep as much of the family routine in place as possible. Children thrive on sameness, so strive to have the days go as much according to the former schedule as you can with a newborn at home. Also, try not to forget any promised activities or other important events (make it a point to record those things or help the child to do so on the family calendar to assist in remembering).

Do encourage empathy from the older child. Help the child to see the baby as a real human being, one with feelings and emotions all his own. Say things like, “See how he smiles when you talk to him,” and “Your singing made him stop crying.” These exchanges encourage the child to connect with the infant.

The Don’ts With a New Baby
There are also some things you should try not to do when a new baby comes home. Don’t expect perfection from the older child. She will melt down at times because of your attention to the baby. She will become whiny and cranky when the baby’s presence means a restriction on the older child’s lifestyle. Those are all normal things, so don’t worry overmuch when they happen.

Don’t tell your child that she can play with the new sibling, as this scenario is far in to the future. Instead, show her what she can do now, such as bounce him gently in his bouncy seat or shake a rattle for him to watch.

Don’t use the baby as an excuse. Instead of saying, “We’ll go to the park when the baby is awake,” tell your child, “We’ll go to the park after lunch.” Not tying everything to the baby will help the older child to see the baby’s proper place as part of the family, not its sole occupant.

Don’t leave a young child alone with the baby. It’s too much responsibility for a youngster to know how to act around a baby, so make sure the two are not unsupervised. How old a child should be to be alone with a baby depends on the child, so if you’re unsure, then keep an eye on the child with the infant. For older children, remember not to use them too often as babysitters. Give them time to merely be the big sister and not the caregiver.

Don’t make it all about the baby. Yes, the baby is the cutest infant in the whole wide world, but that doesn’t mean you have to coo over him every second of every day. Keep some of those moments behind closed doors or when your child is in bed or away from home. This will help keep the flames of jealously tamped down in the older child.

Don’t require silence when the baby sleeps. Newborns can generally sleep through anything, and while you can request the noise to be toned down, don’t worry about eliminating it entirely. Babies who learn to sleep through some background hubbub are generally better sleepers, so your child should play as normally as possible while the baby naps.

Don’t yell at the child for doing something wrong with the baby. In other words, as long as the baby’s not in immediate, physical danger, try to hold back. For example, when our third child, Micah, was just a few weeks old, he was resting in his bouncy chair while I made dinner in the kitchen a few steps away. His older sister, Leah, who was two-and-a-half at the time, stood close by watching him. Suddenly, she bent down, placed her hands on either side of his head, and lifted him up before letting go. Thankfully, the bouncy chair did what it was supposed to do and bounced him gently. Rather than scold her, I instead asked her why she did that. Her reply? “I thought he wanted to be lifted up by his ears like Uncle Scott did to us.” It took me a while to parse out that she meant the trick my older brother did by “lifting” her up by the ears when she was standing. I chuckled and told Leah that Micah was to little to enjoy that trick.

Don’t urge sibling bonding. Avoid pushing the older child into contact with the baby. Most kids will eventually come around and show interest in the baby, but they usually want to do that on their own terms.

Overall, remember that while you and your husband have been anticipating the newborn’s arrival for a long time, your child hasn’t been as excited. Add to that the baby probably isn’t quiet what she expected, plus the changes to the household, and it’s no wonder that most kids aren’t thrilled with a new sibling at first. But don’t fret over setbacks or outburst from the older child. Give it time and she will settle down and accept—and indeed embrace—her new status as a big sister.

This excerpt is from my book, Ending Sibling Rivalry: Moving Your Kids From War to Peace. Used with permission.

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