Preparing Your Older Child For a New Sibling

Few things are worse for parents than seeing two siblings at each other’s throats. Here are some tips on how to keep a harmonious relationship at HOME. It’s important to remember that love is not divided when a sibling is born; it multiplies!

There’s nothing quite as blissful as having another baby. My husband and I were very excited. We decided to wait until the pregnancy was well established and then we told Christopher George, our 4-year-old son. He was going to have a brother.

As a psychologist, I did everything right and by the book. I made sure my husband knew all the tips and tricks he needs, I prepared the family members on how to approach the subject, I teamed up with the preschool teacher, I prepared my son in the best way possible, he took it so positively and we even played with a ball all together as a family with my belly replacing the baby!

However, there was nothing I could have done to overturn the negative impact this wonderful news had on my son. When Michael James was born, Christopher could not yet express himself in words very well and the welcoming attitude he had during pregnancy disappeared as soon as MJ arrived. That translated into aggressive behavior, anger outbursts and unexplained cries. Suddenly, the all-time happy baby turned into a sad little boy and seeing him in this turmoil made his father and me feel miserable and helpless.

Bringing a new addition to the family will change the whole family dynamic: Let’s face it, the older child is going to have to share his kingdom of love, attention, toys and space with another person. From the child’s perspective, if my parents are so happy with me why are they bringing someone else to love?

How children behave when a sibling is born may depend on various things.

1- Before birth: During pregnancy

Announcing the news

Tell your child about the pregnancy when you tell others. The child needs to hear it from you. Talk about the reason why you decided to have another baby, your child needs to know that you are not replacing them, it is not because your love for them is no longer enough! For instance, you might say, “We wanted to bring you and this family a sister or a brother so you are never lonely,” “so you could have someone to play with” or “so you could have someone to lean on as you grow up.”
It might help to describe the positive addition that this baby is going to bring to the child’s life, such as the possibility to teach the baby things, like the alphabet or counting to 10, or having someone waiting when they are back from school etc. This will promote their confidence.

Sculpt their expectations

Let your child know what to expect when the baby is born. Tell him/her that the baby will need a lot of caring and time, and that the baby will only be able to eat, poop, sleep and cry during the first stage. Practice gentle touching, and singing to the baby with newborns in the family or social network if possible. If possible, visit friends who just gave birth so your child gets a realistic idea of the situation. This will soothe their anxiousness.

Involvement

Invite your child to be part of the preparation period, ask his/her opinion about the clothing, painting, furniture, value his/her opinion and involve him/her in the whole preparation process. This will give them a sense of control.
Read children books about pregnancy and newborn babies
Read with your child and discuss the illustrations. Also team up with the preschool teacher so they can read the same kind of books in class. Stories are the best way into children’s hearts! This will stabilize their expectations.

Avoid big changes

The addition of a new family member is turmoil for the older sibling. So postpone the potty training, transition to the toddler bed, stopping the bottle etc. You don’t want him to associate the new arrival to the loss of comfort and familiarity or security. This will reduce the perceived turbulence.
Show videos and pictures of them as a baby
Tell your child how he/she was welcomed and how much everybody was excited about him/her and how happy you were when he/she was born. Show him/her pictures from your pregnancy. Your child needs to feel loved now more than ever. This will remind your child how much he/she is loved.

Repetition

Repeat these messages and actions as often as you can during pregnancy; repetition will help the child to digest and be prepared for the change. Do not take for granted that he/she got the picture if their answers started to be automatic, it is the feeling that we are aiming to soothe by giving the right information.

 

2- After birth: When the baby Is born

Do not pressure
Your child may choose not to get involved too much. Do not push him. He will come around.

Assign simple tasks

Try to ask your child to help with handing the diaper, holding the milk bottle, handing the towels etc. Ask their advice, for instance about what clothe does he/she think the baby would like to wear today. Ask him/her to pamper the newborn with you, children have a special skill for entertainment! They sing, dance and like to make faces. Your child will enjoy the attention and he/she will be proud to bring a smile to his/her siblings’ face.

Set quality time with the older child

Most child psychologists would place this tip as a priority. Spend some “alone time” with your older child, you alone, and both of you as parents. Ask the child to choose the activity. This time will remind him that you are still his mommy and daddy as well as the baby’s and will bring back the full attention attitude that he use to enjoy before the newborn.

Exchange gifts

Have your children exchange gifts to promote how to value each other. For a short period of time, just as soon as we brought MJ back home, Christopher was finding gifts in the crib each day upon his return from school, and he was also giving gifts in return. This contributed to a positive start of their relation.

Have “big brother” or “big sister” gifts ready
When friends show up with gifts to the baby have them offer simple gifts for the older child as well so the child won’t feel alienated. Remind your friends to pay attention to your older child as well. I had prepared several gifts for my friends to hand to Christopher when they visit.

Listen and watch

Pay attention to how your child feels and act about the baby and the changes in your family. If they express negative feelings, acknowledge them. If they show negative behavior, address it.

Always show them that their feelings are important and valuable to you. You may want to help them put their feelings into words to replace bad behavior.

No hurting policy

Make sure your child understands that no hurting is allowed.
Present alternative ways to express his frustration, for instance by saying, “I am upset” or “I am angry.”
Words empower and diminish the need to protest through aggressive behavior. Point out that it is natural for an older child to feel angry about the new baby or about the new changes in the family. “It is true I am not spending enough time with you as I use to, however I will make it up to you tomorrow after school” is an example of what you might want to say.

Private place

Allow your child to have his/her own private place, a special place with things of his/her own and items that he/she doesn’t have to share with the baby.

Read stories

Reading stories about having a new sibling can help your child adjust to the new reality and changes the family is going through.
Books can help understand that his negative feelings are natural, and those talking about positive experiences may be a role model for your child.

Pamper your child

“Baby” your child, if that’s what he/she craves. Tell him/her that you love him as often as you can. Reassure him that the baby will not take your love toward him. There is a tendency for parents to suddenly expect your child to grow up faster and be more independent when a new baby is born. Pamper your child as often as you can, he/she needs your attention more than ever. You might want to say “Daddy and Mommy have so much love. We have enough love for both of you.”

Children have an extraordinary natural resilience and an ability to cope with changes in spite of our expectations. Remember, no matter how negative the older sibling will take it, with good information, patience and a lot of love: it will pass!

Author

Christina Bitar Daher

Clinical Psychologist - MPH

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