Preparing your older child for the new baby can go a long way towards preventing sibling jealousy. Have you heard horror stories about older kids and their jealousy towards a new baby? One friend of mine even said her daughter tried to suffocate her newborn with a pillow!
I can’t imagine how that must have felt. I’m fortunate that this was foreign to me. I didn’t have any trouble at all with my toddlers trying to hurt their new sibling. I never saw signs of rivalry or upset at all. At least, not when the older child was still young. Once baby is old enough to be a nuisance and tear up his toys, it’s another matter!
Preparing Your Older Child for the New Baby
If you want to help prevent your older child from having intense jealousy of the new baby, read on. There are things you can do during pregnancy and in the first few hours, days and weeks after you gave birth to get your older child ready to embrace a sibling.
Sell them your child on the benefits of being “big brother” or “big sister”.
Speak in positive terms to them about what it means to be a big sister or big brother. Play up the importance of their role and help them to feel needed. You will want to discuss how they can be your helper and how much you need them, because after the birth you will be sore and tired.
You may want to assign them a specific task. Something age appropriate. For a younger child, fetching diapers for you might be a good one. With my babies, I invited the older toddler to come and join us during diaper changes in order to involve them. We would chat and I would let them help any way they could. It was a pleasant time. Help your child to appreciate how much you need their help.
At the same time, let your older child be a baby if they need to
An older child may resent all the attention the new baby is getting. Let the older child remember how it felt to be little. Let them crawl up into your lap and be rocked and cuddled. If they want to regress a little bit, for instance if they ask for a pacifier or other long-abandoned “lovely”, allow it without fuss.
Don’t plan any other major changes.
This would not be a good time to introduce any other major changes into their life, such as potty training, different sleeping arrangements or any other changes that could be upsetting. You don’t want to overwhelm them nor add any added stress to their lives or yours.
If your toddler is still nursing, there is no reason to stop during your pregnancy or even afterwards when the new baby arrives. Many moms have found that tandem nursing (breastfeeding siblings who are not twins) is very rewarding and a wonderful way to ease the transition for the older child.
When they are assured of your place in their lap, they are not as likely to be jealous or resent the new baby. I found this to be absolutely true with mine. My toddlers were all still nursing when their siblings were born, and it was wonderful to help them adjust. I shared my story in the link above.
Talk to them about what’s happening, and about their feelings.
Children understand more than we think. So, spend some time talking with them about the big event. You can tell them about what will happen when you go to have the baby, where they will be staying, and what they can expect. Kids need to know about schedule changes. It comforts them to know what’s going to happen.
If you are having the baby at home or in a birthing center, you might want to consider allowing them to be with you at the birth. Children who are close by the mother during her labor are more likely to view the new baby as “ours” instead of an alien intruder!
Some parents have found it helpful to read books that talk about getting a new baby in the house. These often explain how new babies need constant care and feeding.
It’s also helpful to share the story of their own birth with your toddler. Young children seem to love to hear the story of their birth! Talk about how it was such a happy day for you because you finally got to meet them. Tell them details, and let them watch birth videos if you have them, and allow them to go through their baby books and pictures.
Involve older children in the pregnancy.
Take your older child to prenatal appointments if you can. This helps them to start bonding with the unborn child. This is a lot easier if you’re getting care from a midwife, who will welcome your other children. She will probably allow them to listen to the heartbeat or play with the stethoscope and other equipment! My kids always had fun when we visited the midwife for our appointments.
My oldest son even cut his two baby sisters’ cords when they were born. I have pictures of him all decked out as Obi-Wan Kenobi, complete with light sabre, when his first sister was born. He was protective of her and called her Padme for the first few months of her life.
Get help after your birth.
Going from one to two (or two to three, and on and on!) is a wonderful time to ask friends, family, grandparents and others for a little help. While you and the baby are resting, could someone play with your toddler, arrange a playdate or take them to the park for a couple of hours? Or could someone hold the baby so you can focus on your older child for an hour?
A little extra one on one time with a beloved adult can make up for the fact that you are going to be giving the toddler a little less attention for awhile. This is a time for Dad to step up too. While he does need time to bond with the newborn, this can be a time of growth in the older child as he embraces Dad (and other adults) as someone who can also meet his needs.
Watch your language.
When the baby arrives, be careful how you phrase things. I think this may be the most important tip here!
If your older child asks you for something and you can’t help them because you’re caring for the baby, don’t “blame” it on the baby. Say something like, “My hands are busy now, but I can play with you in a few minutes. You about you pick a book and when I’m done, I’ll read you a story?”
Another tip that some moms have found helpful is to talk up the older child to the baby.
We moms love to go ga-ga and talk goo goo over our babies, but why not brag on the older sibling? “Ooh look at what big brother is doing! He’s building a block tower and it’s sooooo tall!”
This can make the older child’s heart swell with pride. Of course, the baby can’t understand a word you’re saying, but that doesn’t matter! You’re doing this to boost the older child, and the baby still gets what he needs.
If your child does express some negative feelings towards the new baby, don’t deflect it or try to change their feelings.
It won’t work!
It’s insulting. We know how WE feel when someone does that to us. Instead, mirror them by saying something empathic, like “It’s tough having to share mommy with the new baby.” Or, “you love your brother, but you feel he’s a pain sometimes.”
You don’t have to agree with your child or change your behavior, just empathize. When we do that, they feel safe sharing their feelings, and are able to process and work through them better. But if we get all bent out of shape they feel misunderstood and frustrated, it doesn’t help matters.
There’s one thing that some people who come to visit your new family may do that you need to watch for.
Don’t overreact every time the older children touch the baby.
Don’t treat the newborn as overly precious. This makes the older child feel like a big, dumb oaf by comparison.
Another thing to be careful of when it comes to visitors is this:
Don’t let visitors focus 100% of their attention on the new baby.
People do this too, and they don’t mean any harm. But imagine how it feels to the older child when everyone around him is completely besotted with “baby this and baby that”. They don’t even ask him questions except to say, “So how do you like the new baby?” Ugh!
If your guests or family members do this, tactfully steer the conversation around.
Clueless Aunt: “So, little Johnny, how do you like the new baby so far?”
Little Johnny: “Um, he’s ok. I guess.”
You: “Auntie, did you see the picture Johnny painted? It’s over there on the refrigerator. Johnny, would you like to show Auntie your new picture? Maybe she can get your paints out and you can draw a new one for her to take home to Aunt Joe.”
You might want to even ask family members and friends to bring a small gift for your older child when they come visit the baby. If they’re not cool like that, stash some presents or treats of your own, and whip them out when baby has a gift to unwrap.
Babies just aren’t that fragile!
It’s more important that your older child bond with the baby, and much of that takes place through touch. Train and teach your older kids how to hold and touch the baby. With a toddler, you may have to guide his hands or tell him to touch “Softly, like a butterfly.”
Don’t freak out whenever the older kids come around the baby, or they’ll come to resent him. You don’t want them to feel like useless, clumsy clods around the “precious” baby. It’s very hurtful to them. There were so many times that my older kids jostled the new baby like s/he was a sack of potatoes, and the baby never even woke up most of the time, much less minded.
Babies like stimulation and they find their big sibs extremely exciting!
Babies will turn their heads and follow a sibling around the room with their eyes. I made a point of saying this out loud to my older kids.
I also reminded them that the baby KNEW them already because of hearing them for so many months in the womb.
They were really impressed by that information.
Another thing alone these lines is, allow your toddler or older child to see and spend time with you as soon as possible after the birth.
Don’t let other family members, including your husband if he’s overzealous, prevent them from reconnecting with you. Especially if you’ve been away at a hospital birth is this true. Don’t make a big deal over the new baby. Let them hug and kiss YOU and then notice the baby (who ideally should not be in your arms for this little reunion).
Drop the guilt.
It’s very common for moms to feel guilty about displacing their older child. I know I certainly felt this way when I was pregnant with my second child. I grieved for what I felt was a loss, and I was worried about my older son – as if he was losing something instead of gaining!
Remember that children have been dealing with the arrival of siblings since the beginning of time.
They will be just fine, and will gain a playmate and perhaps a lifelong friend. Be positive about the transition and your child will likely pick up on your emotions.
A baby sling or carrier can be invaluable for several reasons. For one, you can have your hands free in a sling, meaning you can play with a toddler almost like baby’s not there, where s/he naps peacefully. You’ll always have a free arm to pour a glass of milk, get a snack, offer a hug, a boost onto the swings, or to hold a book to read a story.
Kids don’t mind so much the arrival of a new sibling as they mind the demand on your time. If you can still do most of the stuff you did before, it’s all good.
Be prepared for your own emotions.
Hormones ensure that your priority is to your newborn infant, and that’s as it should be. A lot of times we are surprised by the ferocity of our own feelings of loyalty to our new babies. It’s not that we don’t love our toddlers, because we do. But during the early weeks, don’t be surprised at your feelings.
You might see your toddler differently and are a little afraid that you’ve fallen out of love with him!
Don’t worry! These feelings will subside, and you’ll soon be seeing your toddler through normal eyes. A little extra sleep helps too!
Some recommended resources:
This book helps young children to see the “expandable” quality of a mother’s love.
I loved reading this book to kids #2 and #3 before and after baby #4 came along. They loved it too.
A wonderful book to teach you all about empathic listening and dealing with kid’s strong emotions.
A must read for a mom who is nursing while pregnant and wants to know “what to expect” afterwards.
This was my favorite all time sling. The unstitched style of the tail and no padding make it great for getting a truly hands free hold.
Ergo Baby – my other favorite baby carrier, great once baby is a bit older.
What was your experience with helping your older child make the adjustment to a new baby?