7 Ways You Can Help Your Firstborn Adjust to the New Baby
If you’re about to add a new baby to your home, you may be worrying about how your firstborn will take the news. Toddlers aren’t exactly known for their love of sharing. When it comes to sharing the thing they treasure most – their parents’ love and attention – navigating the arrival of a new baby can tricky territory for parents. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that having a sibling – a reality for about 80% of Americans – is charged with mixed emotions for little ones.
Your firstborn may feel as though they’re competing for their possessions and their space, as well as their parents’ love and attention. They may also worry about fairness, control, and trying to figure out where they fit into the family structure. At some point, however, children learn to adjust and share their parents’ love. Here are 7 proactive steps you can take to help make that happen.
Set the Stage for Friendship Before Birth
Talk to your little one (using age-appropriate language) about the baby throughout your entire pregnancy. Show them pictures of the sonogram. Let them snuggle mom’s tummy, talk to the baby, and feel the baby kick.
Emphasize the positives by telling your firstborn that they'll have someone new to love. Explain that this baby will be their little sister or brother to help them view having a sibling as a benefit or gift. Read your child a book about becoming an older sibling (look for materials that depict the big brother or sister as caring and warm). Enjoy time spent together chatting about the baby and preparing for its arrival.
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Talk About Your Older Child’s Infancy
Snuggle up together and look at pictures your firstborn’s baby photos. Let them see photos of what they looked like after they were born, in the hospital, having a diaper changed, being breastfed, or having a bottle. Lovingly recount the events for your child so that they’ll have an idea of what to expect with the new baby.
Explain to your child that the baby is going to need a lot of attention and holding. Renowned pediatrician Dr. Bill Sears suggests saying something along the lines of, “When the tiny baby comes out of Mommy’s tummy, Mommy’s going to hold it all the time. Tiny babies sleep and nurse all day long and sit in their Mommy’s arms. Tiny babies really need their Mommies.”
New babies often get lots of gifts from visitors, so some parents present their firstborn with a gift “from the new baby” when it’s born. You’ll also find that many experienced parents and veterans of sibling rivalries will thoughtfully include a gift for your older child when visiting as well. Allow your firstborn to open presents on the baby’s behalf and give new stuffed animals a squeeze “to make sure baby will like them.” Once you’re back home, consider asking your little one to help plan a birthday party for the new baby. Let them choose the cake, the decor, and even a few special presents to and from their sibling.
Share Your Time
Babies require a lot of time and maintenance. And sharing is not something that comes naturally to most little ones, especially when it comes to their parents’ time and attention. That means it’s up to mom and dad to look for ways to incorporate a little “time-sharing.”
Babywearing is a game-changer for many parents. Tucking your infant into a carrier or sling on your chest frees up your hands to play with your firstborn. You can also try snuggling to read a book with your older child while feeding the baby. As your infant grows a little older, encourage your firstborn to entertain by making faces and silly noises (which babies love).
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Just remember that your infant’s needs have to take priority (excluding life and death situations), even though your older child may be more tenacious or noisy about making their desires known. According to Dr. Sears: “Many a mother has made the mistake of not bonding appropriately with her newborn for fear of hurting the older one’s feelings. If the child got what she needed as a baby she can handle frustration without damage. An infant can’t.”
Offer Praise and Encouragement
Little children like to help, and they love to feel important – hey, don’t we all? Teach your older child how to be helpful with the baby or how to entertain the baby. Let them use the camera to take pictures of the baby or go fetch diapers for you. Teach them how to put the baby's socks on. Let them help with bathtime. Praise and encourage whenever possible. Simply saying “Thank you! You’re such a big helper” goes a long way.
Respect and Empathize With Their Feelings
Sometimes despite your best efforts, your child may have some negative feelings about their new sibling and may or may not feel comfortable sharing them with you. Encourage your older child to express all their feelings whether positive or negative. Some children feel safer drawing their emotions. Acknowledge their unspoken feelings by saying things like, "Things sure have changed with the new baby here. It's going to take us all a little time to get used to everything." Keep your comments calm and non-specific. Don’t scold. When your child knows that you understand their feelings, they'll be less motivated to act out for your attention.
The Bottom Line
Bringing a new baby home is a time of adjustment for everyone in the family. Be sensitive to your firstborn’s feelings, empathize, and show plenty of affection. This shows your older child you’re still there for them and helps them feel secure. It also helps set the stage for a healthy sibling relationship in the years to come.
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