Anxious about how your child will take to a new sibling? Learn the vital tips on helping your child adjust to a new baby and build a strong sibling bond.
I had 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 with our visitors.
But then he realized that the babies weren’t going anywhere. That mom and dad have less time for him. And his life was changing, from having to be quiet to learning how to do a ton of tasks on his own now.
The result? My preschooler started acting up.
I kept telling myself his behavior is temporary and completely normal. But my waning patience coupled with sleep deprivation did little to make me feel better. Some of the ways he acted up included:
- Shrieking and crying like a newborn baby
- Contradicting what we would say
- Dragging himself through his 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 so looked forward to being a big brother?
I often heard that regression and acting up were normal for kids. 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 plug on through the things that helped our son adjust to a new baby.
1. Pick your battles
Most of children’s antics are impulsive. So, no matter how annoying your child’s latest skirmish may be, know that she isn’t doing so on purpose. She’s responding to the changes in her environment in ways she can.
Don’t expect your child to articulate her frustration, jealousy, and hurt feelings over dinner. Instead, expect outbursts, nagging 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 your child thrive by providing boundaries. But pick those limits so that only the most important rules hold steadfast. It isn’t pleasant hearing ‘no’ or ‘be quiet’ all the time.
Just a warning though: this takes a ton of patience. Many times I wanted to—and sometimes did—snap at him. And I just had to put myself in his shoes and realize that he’s being a real trooper taking all this in.
2. Show empathy
Your older child will test your patience like crazy. 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. I’s likely to peak during the early weeks with the baby. I lost my patience a lot more during those short few months than I ever did all the three years prior. It’s not easy.
How can you manage caring for the baby and meeting your older child’s needs without going crazy?
Show empathy. It’s hard to do as your three-year-old disobeys, regresses, or says outright hurtful words. It’s easier to react and yell, drag him by the arm and tell him to stay in his room.
But as challenging as adjusting to life with a baby is for you, it’s even harder for him. He doesn’t know how to manage his emotions as well as you and I do, and all the defiance and regression stems from his own vulnerability and confusion.
He needs you.
So when he acts up or misbehaves, don’t think of it as another hassle to solve or a personal attack on you. Instead, remind yourself he needs you to help him manage. Just as your newborn needs you to hold him when he cries, so too does your two-year-old when he’s upset.
It doesn’t make it any easier for you when it seems the next best solution is to stop his outburst as fast as possible, but in showing empathy, you’ll curb the behavior more effectively in the long-term. And most importantly, you’re letting him know you’re still his mama, regardless of the baby.
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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 your child for as little as 10 minutes can prevent whining and even tantrums.
Plus, it’s important for your child to feel like he still has you in his life. That the baby hasn’t usurped his 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.
Take advantage of the times your baby is napping to be with your older child even for just a few minutes. These special times, short they may be, could be all he needs to know everything is still all right.
I noticed a difference in the days when I was able to spend one-on-one time with my older son and the days when I couldn’t. Since I breastfeed the twins, I’m not able to be with him as much as I’d like.
But even a few minutes of one-on-one time has helped. We’ll take a quick walk around the block, or I’ll 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 your older child.
Put together a list of quiet or new toys for preschoolers and activities your older child can do on his own. Then, when it’s time to feed the baby, give him the new toy to play with 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, he gets less time and attention, and everyone seems to ignore his needs.
That’s why it’s important to remind him 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. He can sleep later (or not as often), go to fun places, and otherwise get to do so many things his new sibling isn’t able to do yet.
6. Encourage your older child to help with baby duties
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One of the best ways to help your older child to feel involved is to include her with baby duties.
As big sister, she can feel more responsible, independent and proud of contributing to the family and helping you out. She can:
- Throw away diapers
- 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 your child learn more about what babies do:
My older son has made tremendous strides with welcoming not only one but two new siblings into his life. He now doesn’t mind when the babies cry. He has taken an active role in playing and taking care of his brothers. And he enjoys one-on-one time with me and my husband.
This wasn’t always the case, as the first two weeks were pretty rough. He still acts up once in a while, but I remind myself how much he’s going through. I act accordingly, helping him adjust to his new role as big brother.
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