Helping Siblings Adjust to a New Baby

“As soon as I saw you, I knew an adventure was going to happen.” -Winnie the Pooh

     A big event in the life of a family is bringing a new baby home to meet his or her siblings.  You may have spent months talking about the baby and getting ready but now the moment has arrived.  These humans will be in each other’s lives for the rest of their lives.  Will they get along?  Will they like each other?  Here are a few things to keep in mind as siblings get to know each other. 

     How your child reacts to his or her brother or sister depends on many factors including temperament, personality and – most notably – developmental phase.  Toddlers’ understanding of what has happened may be limited.  They only know that you have been away from them, perhaps for the first time.  Greet them first when you get home before they meet their sibling.  Initially, they may be a little standoffish until they realize you are back to stay.  Give them a chance to meet their brother or sister at their pace. 

     One advantage with toddlers is that they have a more limited understanding of family dynamics. Older children may be a little indignant, wishing or thinking they should have been consulted regarding this family change.  They did not want a sister…they wanted a brother…or even a puppy! 

     Another difference between toddlers and older children is their memory.  In a few weeks toddlers will not remember baby not being there.  Older children, on the other hand may reminisce about being an only child.  Allow them to express their feelings. 

     As your child adjusts to their new sibling, remember that words matter.  They may want to “help” take care of baby even in tasks of which they are not physically capable.  Try to avoid always saying no.  Instead of “No you cannot feed the baby” say, “Could you sit beside me while I feed your baby?” or “Could you sing your baby a song while I feed him/her?”  Another way to use words to your advantage is to give your child some ownership of their sibling.  “YOUR sister is crying.  Let’s go see what is going on with YOUR sister.”  “It is time to feed YOUR brother.”  This makes your child feel important and included.  

     It is completely normal for your older child to explore or test out their baby.  Supervision is key.  If you leave the room, one of them needs to be with you. 

     Give your child a spot on baby that is THEIR special love spot.  This can be a way to channel their enthusiasm.  I recommend the toes as it keeps siblings out of baby’s face.  “Your brother/sister loves it when you kiss his/her toes.  Only brothers/sisters get to kiss the toes.  He/she loves it when you do that.”

     Do not worry if your child does not show immediate interest in their sibling.  Some children are slower to warm up to new relationships.  Give them time.  In fairness to your older child, newborns are boring.  They do not smile, crawl or play like other babies your child may know.  Be patient.  In a few months, when big brother or sister walks in the room your baby is going to light up.  He or she will encourage all behavior… good and bad.  Let the adventure BEGIN!

by Laura Duke, C.P.N.P., I.B.C.L.C.