Just two months ago, my husband and I introduced the newest member of our family – beautiful baby boy Nicholas – to our 5-year-old son Lucas. While Lucas was excited to become a big brother, he had a hard time adjusting to our family’s new dynamic.
When he began to act out in uncharacteristic ways, I realized that Lucas’ world had just been turned upside down. Not only was he coping with drastic changes in his daily routine, but I had also inadvertently placed a heavy load of stress onto his little shoulders. I was expecting him to be instantly responsible, independent and more mature when the baby came home. When I made a conscious effort to treat him like a 5 year old again, his behavior turned around.
Many parents experience similar situations when welcoming a new baby to the family. Newborns require a great deal of care and attention. As a result, parents cannot spend as much time with their other children. Older children may resent this and feel abandoned, hurt or left out.
While sibling rivalry or jealousy is perfectly normal, there are steps parents can take to ease the transition for all members of the family.
Even before the new baby is born, parents can engage children in meaningful activities and conversation. Helping mom pack the baby’s bag, selecting baby names and purchasing homecoming clothes are all great ways to get brothers and sisters involved.
When the baby arrives, parents may want to provide older children with special recognition, such as a big brother/sister badge or shirt. Another good idea is to have them give something special to friends announcing the baby’s birth.
Once home, parents should be sure to spend some special time with older children. Bedtime is a great opportunity to read a book together or get in a few quiet snuggles. Siblings can also assist in diapering, dressing or pushing a stroller if they show interest.
Many parents find that despite their best efforts, some children still have difficulty adjusting to a new baby. Possible reactions include anger, regression and hostility. In cases like these, it’s important for parents to be patient and understanding. Allowing children to express their feelings helps with any negative behaviors they may show. However, it’s important to explain that while expressing angry feelings is acceptable, showing angry behavior is not.
Finally, parents should remember that the sibling/newborn adjustment period is temporary. In a few months, as the baby begins to grow and respond, older children will begin the process of developing a loving, lifelong relationship with their new brother or sister.
Kim Schimmel, RN is a Childbirth Educator of Preparation for Parenthood at The Toledo Hospital and Flower Hospital. This 2-hour sibling class for children and their parents is interactive, fun, and age appropriate, focusing on the arrival of a newborn. For more info, call