Preparing Older Children for New Siblings

by Ellie Kahn, TCM intern

“I know how to make her stop crying, why don’t we just cut off her head?”

–Annie Kahn, my loving older sister

You’re excited, scared, nervous, overjoyed, comfortable, enthusiastic, hopeful, empowered, relieved, surprised, interested, horrified, and thrilled.  You’re having another baby.  Maybe it was planned.  Maybe it was a surprise.  Maybe you’ve been waiting anxiously, hoping to get pregnant.  Maybe you can’t believe you have to go through it all over again.  Maybe you fall somewhere in the middle.  Expecting a baby is one of the most emotion-filled experiences of a lifetime; a new, lovely being will be welcomed into your life and it will change your family forever.  You prepare to welcome the newcomer into all aspects of your life, including the life or lives of your older children. So how do you do it? How do you help them through the changes they will inevitably experience?

A great deal of research has been done on this topic because, understandably, it is common for older siblings to have a hard time with this change.  Sibling rivalry can happen anytime: before the new baby is born, years after the siblings have lived together in harmony, or intermittently throughout their lives.  Much of the time, we have to deal with sibling strife as it comes, rolling with the punches, because we can’t blame older children.  They don’t get to pick their siblings, let alone decide whether they wanted them around at all.  We can’t always predict when children will get along, or when they might lovingly suggest cutting off their little sibling’s head as a solution to the crying baby in the car seat.  We can, however, do our best to make the change easier on older siblings.  For years, experts have researched how to make the transition to siblinghood easier.  Here is a compilation of some of my favorite tips and suggestions:

  • Discuss the pregnancy with your children at the same time as you make your family and friends privy to your exciting news.  It will be easier for your kids to hear the news from you (Boyse).
  • Include your children in your prenatal visits.  They can get to know and become comfortable with your midwife, ask questions, and participate in the exam by feeling the baby in your belly and listening to the heartbeat.  Including older siblings allows them to feel like they are part of the experience, rather than observing as an outsider.
  • Read books and watch movies about homebirths and welcoming new babies.  (A list of some of our favorite books will follow!)
  • If you plan on having your child/children attend your birth, or parts of it, explain to them what it will look and sound like.  Practice birth sounds, positions, and comfort messages, with and in front of your children to help them get comfortable with the foreign experience and to help them understand that they don’t need to worry about you.
  • Talk about your older child/children’s birth and babyhood.  Look at pictures and videos and remind them how excited you were at their birth and how happy you are to have them in your life (Boyse).
  • Let the older sibling(s) participate in decision making, such as coming up with names, choosing outfits, and arranging the new baby’s room.
  • When possible, make an effort to keep familiar routines surrounding the baby’s birth (Pendley).  However, daily activities may change, so be realistic with your child (Boyse) and explain to them ways in which they can participate in new routines, such as helping to make snacks for mom when she’s in bed.
  • Take advantage of alone time with older siblings, and remind friends and family that the older child/children might want to discuss other topics than the new baby (Pendley).
  • If, like many of the older siblings in the world, you find your older ones acting out, stay strong with your rules!  Try to understand what they’re going through, while reminding yourself that kids appreciate boundaries, especially during times of change.
  • Make it clear that your family doesn’t hit or harm people when they’re frustrated or angry.  Come up with safe and healthy ways that older siblings can express their frustrations (Boyse).
  • Set up a special space specifically for the older sibling, so that they don’t feel like everything is being taken over by the new arrival (Boyse).
  • Understand if your child shows regressive behavior.  Praise them when they do age-appropriate behaviors (“Preparing Your Family for a New Baby”).

As always, we would love for you to share your suggestions and comments on what has worked for all of you seasoned parents.  Here is the promised list of children’s books that we carry in the TCM lending library. We would also love for you to comment with book title suggestions that you have enjoyed reading with your older children, and reviews of the books below.

  • Welcome With Love writtenby Jenni Overend, illustrated by Julie Vivas
  • On Mother’s Lap written by Ann Herbert Scott, illustrated by Glo Coalson
  • Mama’s Milk/Mama Me Alimenta written by Michael Elsohn Ross, illustrated by Ashley Wolff
  • We Have a Baby written by Falwell

For parents interested in doing some reading of their own, my own personal expert on parenting, my mother, loved reading the book Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live too written by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

Happy parenting!

Thanks,

Ellie Kahn, TCM intern

Reference List:

Boyse, Kyla. “New Baby Sibling–Helping Your Older Child Adjust: Your Child.”University of Michigan Health System. Regents of the University of Michigan, Oct. 2009. Web. 31 July 2011. <http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/newbaby.htm&gt;.

Pendley, Jennifer Shroff. “Preparing Your Child for a New Sibling.” KidsHealth – the Web’s Most Visited Site about Children’s Health. The Nemours Foundation, Dec. 2008. Web. 31 July 2011. <http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/feelings/sibling_prep.html&gt;.

“Preparing Your Family for a New Baby.” Healthy Children. American Academy of Pediatrics, 19 May 2011. Web. 31 July 2011. <http://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/pages/Preparing-Your-Family-for-a-New-Baby.aspx?nfstatus=401&nftoken=00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000&nfstatusdescription=ERROR:+No+local+token&gt;.

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