Preparing your child for a new baby can go miles in ensuring acceptance of their sibling and minimizing feelings of jealousy that arise from shifting family dynamics. The most important thing parents can do is to talk to children about how they’re feeling and handle behavioral issues or regressions with compassion. Clinical Psychologist Dr. Rebecca Alperin of Psychological Resources, Ltd. in Toledo shares her tips for a smooth introduction to your family’s new addition.
How would you recommend parents prepare children for a new baby?
”Parents should just be honest and let the children know they are going to be a big brother or big sister. There are some good books out there for younger children, like the Berenstain Bears’ New Baby. Sometimes it helps to make a calendar with a countdown date for the baby’s birth, so the kids have something visual to help them. Reassure the child that they will have an important role as the older sibling and that they will be a great helper and teach the baby all kinds of important things like how to play, etc. Obviously, some of this depends on the age of the older siblings, and always be ready for the children to ask how the baby got in mom’s tummy.”
What are some tips for introducing older siblings to the new arrival?
“A lot of hospitals allow older siblings to come visit mom and baby in the hospital, so that is helpful. Depending on the age of the older sibling, parents can help them practice holding a baby or feeding a baby with a doll. With a new baby a lot of siblings feel jealousy because of the focus and attention on the new baby, so it’s helpful to let the older sibling know they are important and have an important role as the big brother/big sister.”
What are some ways to include siblings when baby comes home?
“The older children could help with decorating a nursery or picking out a special gift for the new baby. They could draw pictures for the new baby or give ideas for names. Allow the older siblings to help with feedings or bath time. Older siblings can also ‘play’ with the baby or be the parents’ helper. It’s also important not to ‘force’ interaction between the older child and the baby, as some kids can be a little hesitant when there is a new baby in the home.”
Anything else you think it’s helpful for parents to know?
“If the older sibling is still very young, be aware that jealousy is not uncommon, and there may be some regression in the older child’s behavior. For instance, they may start having wetting accidents even if they are potty-trained, or they may want to eat out of a bottle or ask to wear a diaper. They may start attention-seeking, become clingy, or develop some separation anxiety from the parents. It is important to still have special time with the older siblings, even if it is only 10 minutes a day, when the baby is sleeping and there are no other distractions. A lot of this depends on the age difference between the baby and older siblings. School-age siblings are usually better at being ‘helpers’ with the baby, whereas toddler-age siblings still need their own attention.”