It’s hard for parents to deal with a baby crying. Now your older child has to as well. Here’s how to help your older child handle a new baby crying.
The weeks after I brought the twins home tested my patience. Sure, I was a second-time mom so I learned from my mistakes and knew the newborn madness would get easier.
Still, it took my older son a few weeks to adjust to his brothers, and a few more after that to adjust to their crying.
Welcoming a new baby—and all his crying glory—is hard enough for us parents. Now imagine your older child hearing his baby brother’s cries, over and over, day after day.
It’s enough to make you go bonkers.
How to help your older child handle a new baby crying
How can we help our older kids understand the shrill cries of their new baby sibling?
#1 Explain that crying is the only way babies can ‘talk.’
If only babies (and toddlers, for that matter) could communicate with words from day one. Instead, we’re left to decipher their needs based on their cries.
Young kids don’t always know this. They assume crying must mean something terrible has gone wrong. They hear the baby’s incessant wail and think the worst. And they even liken it to their own experiences with crying. To a young child’s mind, crying happens because something terrible did happen. (Even if all he cried about was because you didn’t roll up his sleeves. True story.)
We took a different tactic with our eldest. Whenever a baby would cry, we’d say, “Let’s see why he’s crying.” or “What do you think he’s trying to tell us?”
We’d continue to hold a conversation with the baby within earshot of our older kid. We’d say, “Oh, you were telling Mama you needed a diaper change, weren’t you?” And we’d tell our older child, “Babies can’t talk yet like you and me, not until they’re big boys and girls. So now the only way they can tell us anything is by crying. It doesn’t always mean they’re hurt or sad.”
We would also compare it to typical requests he would make. For instance, we’ll say, “You know how you let us know you’re hungry and want a snack? Sometimes the babies cry because they’re letting us know they’re hungry too.” He’ll see that crying isn’t always bad.
Yes, babies usually cry to express dissatisfaction—babies don’t cry because they’re happy. But crying isn’t always disastrous and could mean the baby is cold. Or they’re bored. Or over-stimulated. Or a slew of other reasons that aren’t as terrible as what their piercing cries would have us believe.
Of course sometimes they are upset—uncomfortable tummy aches, nausea, hunger, pain. The dreaded Witching Hour. But it’s good for our older kids to know that not all cries are equal. And that sometimes the baby is just letting us know he’s tired and wants to sleep.
#2 Tell him babies won’t always cry like this.
You’ve already been through the newborn phase at least once, so you know the drill. Babies won’t always cry this much. Even their actual cries will evolve as they grow from newborn to infant to toddler and beyond. So the endless crying? They’re not endless…
…Except to your older child, who may have no idea that babies grow, much less stop crying.
Easy enough for us as adults to understand the changing tides. We accept life’s hardships knowing they’ll peter out and become more bearable. As such, we can sometimes forget that our young kids may not know this. Heck, they think nine-year-olds are old.
So we explain to them that babies grow and will find new ways to communicate. They cry now because they don’t know how else to relay their needs, but in time they’ll learn to ask for food. They’ll crawl to us when they want company. They’ll smile and reciprocate our love.
Babies will also better acclimate to their new surroundings. We forget that they’ve been in our wombs and must now adjust to this foreign environment. Imagine uprooting yourself from the only life you know and adjust to a new place you’re not used to.
I’d cry too.
But with time and love, babies adjust. They’ll lean on routines and predictability to assuage any fears they may have. Things won’t be so foreign anymore. And they might even enjoy this new home of theirs. Crying won’t be so necessary.
#3 Keep calm and parent.
How do you react when the baby cries? Do you drop everything and rush to her aid, even if she was only whimpering? Or do you take your time and finish what you were doing before checking in?
How you react can affect your older child’s anxieties about the baby’s crying. When she sees you calm and in control, she’ll mirror your emotions. She’ll trust that the baby’s cries don’t always mean something terrible is wrong.
Give it a few seconds before you jump in and rush to your baby. You can even ask your older child, “Looks like the baby is crying. What do you think she needs?” Invite her to help problem solve and help as a big sister.
#4 Attend to your older child first.
You have two kids crying: your newborn and your toddler. Who should get your attention first?
Assess the situation, and if the baby looks like he could wait, attend to the older child first. As the older child, your daughter will remember these episodes more than the baby.
Of course at times the baby comes first. But should both kids need you, you’re better off addressing the needs of your older child.
She won’t feel shunned or associate the baby’s crying with negativity. She won’t harbor jealousy or resentment. She’ll learn to cope with the cries because she knows it doesn’t mean you’ll ignore her.
Your older child may have been so excited to welcome her new baby sibling. You hoped so much she would take to being a big sister, but it’s not working. It tears your heart to see her upset when the baby cries, to regress and act like a baby herself, or to throw a tantrum. Makes you want to cry, too.
This is all normal. Kids don’t always understand that crying is the only way babies can talk. They don’t know that in time, the crying will die down in frequency and intensity.
But with your calm approach to crying, she may just mimic your demeanor and learn that crying isn’t all so bad. Especially when you share your attention with both of them.
Get more tips on welcoming a new baby:
- Helping Your Older Child Adjust to a New Baby
- 10 Children’s Books about a New Baby
- Newborn Tips and Tricks for New Moms You’ll Be Glad You Read
- Preparing for Baby: How to Avoid the Clutter
- Baby Must-Haves that Will Make Your Life Easier
Your turn: How does your older child react to your new baby crying?
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