Dealing with a baby crying is hard for parents AND older siblings. Learn how to help your child handle a baby crying all day (and night!).
“When are they leaving?” my eldest asked a few days after bringing the twins home.
Those first few weeks 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 her baby sibling’s cries, over and over, day after day.
This on top of all the changes in her life, from less attention from her parents to the emotional toll a new baby takes.
How to help your child handle a baby crying
It’s normal for your older child to get upset when the baby cries, withdraw to herself, or even cry alongside the baby. And with the demands of caring for a newborn top of mind, helping her handle the crying can be a challenge.
Still, teaching her how to respond to the baby’s cries is important, not only to prevent outbursts but to reassure her that this is normal. Here’s how to help her cope with the new baby’s constant crying:
1. Stay calm when your baby cries
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 the baby. You can even ask your older child, “Looks like the baby is crying. What do you think she needs?” Invite her to problem solve and help as a big sister.
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2. 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.
Except your child might not know this.
She assumes the baby’s incessant wails must mean something terrible has gone wrong. She thinks the worst and likens it to her own experiences with crying. (Even if all the baby cried about was because you didn’t roll up his sleeves. True story.)
Instead, explain that crying is the only way babies can communicate. You might say, “Let’s see why he’s crying,” or “What do you think he’s trying to tell us?”
Continue to hold a conversation with the baby within earshot of your older child. You can say, “Oh, you were telling mama you needed a diaper change, weren’t you?”
Then tell your 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.”
And finally, compare it to typical requests she would make. For instance, say, “You know how you let us know you’re hungry and want a snack? Sometimes the baby cries because she’s letting us know she’s hungry too.”
Yes, babies usually cry to express dissatisfaction—they don’t cry because they’re happy. But crying isn’t always disastrous. It could mean that they’re cold, bored, over-stimulated, or other reasons that aren’t as terrible as we assume.
Of course sometimes they are upset—uncomfortable tummy aches, nausea, hunger, pain. The dreaded Witching Hour. But older kids need to know that not all cries are equal, and that sometimes the baby is just letting you know she’s tired and wants to sleep.
3. Tell your child that 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 adults to understand these changes—we accept life’s hardships knowing they’ll eventually end. As such, we can forget that our young kids may not know this.
Explain to your child that babies will grow and find new ways to communicate. They cry now because they don’t know how else to share their needs, but in time they’ll learn to ask for food with words. They’ll crawl to us when they want company and 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, they adjust. They’ll lean on routines and predictability to ease fears they may have, and their world won’t be so foreign anymore. They’ll enjoy this new home of theirs, and crying won’t be so frequent.
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 she could wait, attend to the older child first.
Of course, at times the baby comes first. But should both kids need you, address the needs of your older child, however briefly, before turning to the baby.
She won’t feel shunned or neglected, or associate the baby’s crying with negativity. She won’t harbor jealousy or resentment, and will instead 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, but now, not so much. You hoped 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, she’ll learn that crying isn’t all bad, especially when you share your attention with both of them. And she won’t ask, “When is the baby leaving?” anymore.
Get more tips on how to help your child handle a baby crying:
- Helping Your Older Child Adjust to a New Baby
- Children’s Books about a New Baby
- Newborn Tips and Tricks for New Moms You’ll Be Glad You Read
- How to Avoid Baby Clutter
- The Ultimate Newborn Shopping List
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