You have a young child and now you are pregnant with number 2 (or 3 or 4) and you are a little nervous as to how this new baby is going to affect the older child. There can be a lot of ways that young children deal with the introduction of a new baby sibling into their world. We as parents would like to make the transition easy on the older sibling, the new baby, and the whole family.
The way I like to look at this situation would be to try to approach this from both angles. Imagine you are the older sibling and you have had your parents undivided attention for a couple of years and then one day your parents bring home a little baby and the whole world as you know it is totally different. That might shake any of us. Now also look at it from a parent’s perspective, you have this new baby who needs you 24/7 and literally will be waking you up around the clock for diaper changes and feedings, and you are still trying to take good care of the very energetic older sibling.
Siblings tend to have different ways of adjusting to this new world. Some older siblings can make this life adjustment very well and seem to embrace this new little bundle. Other older siblings may completely implode (not literally but it sure feels that way as parents). If you find yourself in the latter situation there is hope and things you can do.
Before the new baby arrives, it is a great idea to have some initial discussion about what is happening. Kid books that tell stories about the introduction of a new baby are helpful. Let the sibling(s) see and explore the nursery or area where the baby will sleep and some of the baby equipment. Answer any questions the sibling(s) may have as honestly as you can. Explaining that the new baby is going to cry and this is normal and ok.
It is important that the older sibling(s) still get the needed one-on-one attention. This can be as simple as reading a book together, playing a game, talking, or cuddling while the new baby is sleeping. This might mean that the laundry and dishes don’t get done but that is ok. If you can take the older sibling(s) on an errand and leave the baby at home with your spouse or other family member, that would be a nice way to say to the older sibling that they are special and get to spend time with just mom or just dad.
The older sibling(s) also need to feel helpful and involved. Have them help with diaper changes. That doesn’t mean that you should teach a 2 year old to change the diaper, but older siblings can definitely learn. The younger sibling(s) can fetch a diaper, help hold the wipes, get the special diaper cream, throw the diaper away, and other small tasks. This seems very small but very important.
It is ok if the older sibling regresses in some of their skills after the new baby. Some may have a harder time with potty training. Some may not want to give up their pacifier. Some may decide they want a bottle again. Some may decide to throw major tantrums. This is usually an act to gather more of your attention but try your best to ignore it and praise them for using the potty, giving up the pacifier, using a sippy cup, or behaving well. Also try to allow the sibling time to adjust to life with a new baby before really tackling a new skill like potty training.
Billings Clinic offers classes a few times a year to prepare families for a new sibling. They’re called “I was here first.” Go to www.billingsclinic.com/classes for a listing of available times.
One of the best parts of new sibling adjustment is seeing the positive sibling interaction, it is truly heartwarming. The sibling bond is life-long and very strong and parents can help foster that from the start. Good luck!