Anxious about how your eldest will take to a new sibling? Learn tips on helping your child adjust to a new baby and build a strong bond.
I underestimated the effect that bringing two newborns would have on my three-year-old.
Sure, the first day was fine—the twins seemed like a novelty, and we had fun hanging out with visitors.
But then he realized that the babies weren’t going anywhere and that mom and dad have less time for him. His life was changing, from having to be quiet to learning how to do tasks on his own now.
The result? He started acting up.
I kept telling myself his behavior was temporary and normal, but my waning patience coupled with sleep deprivation didn’t help. Some of the ways he acted up included:
- Shrieking and crying like a newborn baby
- Contradicting what we would say
- Dragging himself through chores and tasks
- Talking back and being rude to other people
- Demanding that a crying baby leave the room
Helping your child adjust to a new baby
Where had the little boy who would kiss my pregnant belly gone? The boy who looked forward to being a big brother?
I often heard that regression and acting up were normal for older siblings. Many told me he’d accept these new changes in his life and love and enjoy his brothers. And so, my husband and I did our best to do the things that helped him adjust to a new baby:
1. Show empathy
It can start as early as the last few months of your pregnancy when you’re extra tired and changes in the home are more apparent. And it’ll likely peak during the early weeks with the baby. I lost my patience more during those short few months than I ever did all the three years prior.
How can you manage caring for the baby and meeting her needs? Show empathy.
Yes, it can be hard to do, especially when she disobeys, regresses, or says outright hurtful words. It’s easier to react and yell, drag her by the arm and tell her to stay in her room.
But as challenging as adjusting to life with a baby is for you, it’s even harder for her. She doesn’t know how to manage her emotions as well as you and I do, and the defiance and regression stem from her own vulnerability and confusion.
So, when she acts up or misbehaves, don’t think of it as another hassle to solve or a personal attack on you. Instead, remind yourself that she needs you to help her manage her emotions. Just as your newborn needs you to hold him when he cries, so too does your older child when she’s upset.
It’s tempting to want to stop her outburst as fast as possible, but in showing empathy, you’ll curb the behavior in the long-term. And most importantly, you’re letting her know you’re still her mama, regardless of the baby.
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2. Pick your battles
Most children’s antics are impulsive. No matter how annoying your child’s latest skirmish may be, know that she isn’t always doing so on purpose. She’s responding to the changes in her environment in ways she can.
Don’t expect her to articulate her frustration, jealousy, and hurt feelings over dinner. Instead, expect outbursts, whining, and plenty of other attention-getting behavior.
That said, you may want to loosen up a bit on the rules around the house and pick your battles. Stand your ground and help her thrive by providing boundaries, but pick those limits so that only the most important rules are enforced. It isn’t pleasant hearing “no” or “be quiet” all the time.
A warning though: this takes a lot of patience. Many times, I wanted to—and sometimes did—snap at my eldest. I had to put myself in his shoes and realize that he’s being a real trooper taking all this in.
3. Spend one-on-one time with your older child
Here’s the rough part. As limited in time as you already are, it’s still important for you to spend alone time with your older child. Connecting with her for as little as 10 minutes can prevent whining and even tantrums.
It’s important for her to feel like she still has you in her life. That the baby hasn’t usurped her special place in your heart. You don’t have to do anything crazy—a simple game, a snuggle on the couch, or a quick walk around the block will do.
Take advantage of the times your baby is napping to be with your her even for just a few minutes. These special times, short they may be, could be all she needs to know everything is still all right.
I noticed a difference on the days when I was able to spend one-on-one time with my eldest son and the days when I couldn’t. Since I breastfeed the twins, I wasn’t always able to be with him as much as I’d like.
But even a few minutes of one-on-one time helped. We’d take a quick walk around the block, or I’d give him a bath and put him to bed.
4. Find things for your older child to do while you’re with the baby
One challenge with balancing your older child’s needs with the baby’s is what to do when your hands are tied.
Let’s say you’re nursing or feeding the baby and can’t be up and about with her. Put together a list of quiet or new toys for preschoolers and activities she can do on her own. Then, when it’s time to feed the baby, give her the new toy to play with or book to read while you sit nearby to feed the baby.
5. Highlight the cool things big kids can do that babies can’t
Your eldest can start to believe that being a baby is the way to win people’s hearts. After all, visitors coo over the baby while she gets less time and attention, and everyone seems to ignore her needs.
That’s why it’s important to remind her how awesome it is being a big kid over a baby. Big kids get to run and play, talk, draw, and eat yummy, healthy food. She can sleep later (or not as often), go to fun places, and otherwise get to do so many things her new sibling isn’t able to do yet.
6. Encourage your older child to help with baby duties
One of the best ways to help your older child feel involved is to include her with baby duties. As a big sister, she can feel more responsible, independent, and proud of contributing to the family and helping out. She can:
- Get the diaper
- Fetch towels
- Hold a toy for the baby to see
- Get a burp cloth
- Put bottles in the sink
- “Push” the stroller
All these tasks will remind her that she’s an important part of the family helping in her own way.
p.s. And check out Eat, Sleep, Poop by Alexandra Penfold to help her learn more about what babies do:
Sometimes, bringing a baby home is difficult not because of the baby, but because of your older child’s behavior.
Start by showing empathy so she feels heard and understood. Enforce boundaries, but pick your battles as well. Spend one-on-one time with her, even as little as 10 minutes at a time. Give her fun things to do while you need to be with the baby.
Remind her about the cool things she can do as a big kid that her baby sibling can’t do yet. And finally, enlist her help with baby duties so she feels like a contributing part of the family.
My older son made tremendous strides with welcoming not only one but two new siblings into his life. He no longer minded when the babies cried and played with his brothers—definitely a huge improvement from those first two weeks.
Get more tips:
- Children’s Books about a New Baby
- Preparing for Baby: How to Avoid the Clutter
- The Ultimate Newborn Shopping List
- Newborn Tips and Tricks for New Moms You’ll Be Glad You Read
- What to Do when You’re Unhappy Being a Mom
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