If you’re a parent, you know that life is constantly changing. One of the most significant changes a family can go through is when a new baby joins the family. It can be exciting and overwhelming all at the same time. Here are some tips to help your kids adjust to a new baby.
Set aside time for your children.
When a new baby comes home, it’s easy to take all the attention and focus off of your other children. Don’t do this! Your older children need you too. Make sure you make time for your older kids every day. Read them stories, play games with them at bedtime, or let them watch their favorite TV show together each week if they miss out on activities because of the baby.
Even though you may be preoccupied with the new baby, never forget to spend quality time with your big kids. Let them know that even though you’re busy caring for the baby, they are still part of your family.
After the little one has settled into a routine, find a time when she’s napping or when everyone is home together to have a big celebration for your older kids. Make a cake and eat it with everyone in the family or take them out for ice cream.
As much as possible, try to spend time with each of your children individually. Ask if Grandma or Grandpa can take her out for an afternoon while you and your other big kids go to the movies together.
If this isn’t possible because of work or money, plan another way to give each child alone time with you at different points throughout the week. It might be something as simple as taking turns reading stories before bedtime so everyone gets their turn in the spotlight.
Once they feel like an important family member again, their adjustment period will go much more smoothly.
Talk about the new baby.
Help your other kids feel comfortable talking about their feelings by opening up a conversation yourself too. Ask your older children how they’re feeling, what they think of the new baby, and if they can tell you something special about her.
When you make an effort to talk openly with them, it will help create a safe space for them to share their thoughts and express themselves without fear of judgment or punishment.
If a child says something upsetting like “I wish he weren’t here,” allow him to voice his frustration without getting angry or right away. Take some time to talk it through with him and let him know that his feelings are valid.
Each child is different, so their transition into life with a new baby will be too. Some kids may take the change right away, while others might take weeks or months to adjust. Whatever the case may be, recognize that your children will process this monumental change in their lives at their own pace.
There’s no timeline for when they should “be over” something or how long they should be sad about something before you can move on. Just keep an open line of communication and maintain patience while they sort through all of their thoughts and emotions about what’s going on in their lives.
Help your kids prepare for the baby.
Kids can be curious about what having a new baby will be like, and it’s easy to assume they don’t care or understand what is going on. But talk to them about having a new baby coming home soon. Their curiosity will help them want to know more, so you can use that as an opportunity to answer any questions they have and raise awareness of their role in helping with the newest family member.
If you let them help with some of the preparations for the baby’s arrival–sorting through baby clothes, picking out a name, packing the hospital bag–it shows them that they’re important too.
If you have a young child who will be a big sibling soon, talk about how special it is to welcome each newborn into the family, no matter if they’re one year old or 10 years old.
Make sure your older kids understand what changes are happening so they don’t feel surprised by something new when the baby comes home. For example, tell them how much smaller this new baby will be than them, so there aren’t any surprises later!
Reassure them that they’re going to be a big help with the baby from day one, and remind them of the many things their brothers or sisters did when they were born. Talk about what took place after she was born to make sure your older children understand their role in taking care of her needs.
Talking about it ahead of time can help alleviate some children’s concerns once the arrival date gets closer and add clarity to any questions they may have later on.
Give older kids physical tasks.
You don’t want to set expectations too early or put unnecessary pressure on your child, but this is an excellent opportunity to get everyone involved in caring for the new baby. Letting children feel like part of the process is a great way to show them that they’re loved and appreciated.
Before she’s born, ask for their help in picking out things they think the baby will need — outfits, blankets, diapers — and give them money toward buying him something special.
The more involved your children feel and the more responsibility you give them while taking care of their new sibling, the more excited and active they will be in helping with his needs when he comes home from the hospital.
Encourage them to help out with tasks like changing diapers, making bottles, etc., as much as they can handle.
It’s essential to be realistic about what your child is capable of doing, especially if they’re young. As long as you keep them within their capabilities and help them understand how it all works, this will give kids a sense of pride and accomplishment that will make them want to take care of the baby more often.
Don’t compare siblings.
It’s important to make each child feel like they are still valued when a new baby comes into the picture.
Avoid comparing them by saying things like, “The baby behaves better than you.” Try not to say anything that will put down their older sibling or make them feel bad about themselves in any way.
If they’re asking questions, answer them honestly in a diplomatic way that doesn’t put either child down, especially when it comes to things beyond their control, like the baby’s temperament.
For example, if your older child asks, “Why does she have to cry so much?” you can say, “Babies always cry sometimes, even when they’re happy. She’s probably hungry or wet.”
It’s essential to be conscious of how your older child feels around the baby. Ask them if their feelings are hurt by anything you say, and make sure they feel like part of the family rather than neglected because there’s a newborn in the house.
Everyone is different and takes things at their own pace. Don’t expect your first child to be over the moon about having a new baby around just because you hope they will be.
It’s common to compare children, but you need to be careful about it since it can cause feelings of inadequacy in your older child. Don’t talk about how the new baby “stole” so-and-so’s toys or how he doesn’t seem as excited as his brother was when the last baby came home.
You want your kids to be excited and happy about the new baby. The more involved they are, the better their overall attitude will be, translating into a better experience for everyone.
Teach respect and responsibility before the baby comes home.
You want your children to be excited and happy about the new baby, but their behavior will often reflect how they feel if it’s not.
As you prepare for the arrival of your new child, work with your kids on their basic manners and teach them what is expected of them even when they don’t feel like following through.
Letting them know certain rules won’t change no matter how they feel or what kind of mood they’re in will help ensure everyone stays happy and comfortable at home after she arrives.
Once you’ve established a set of guidelines for respectful behavior, ensure you show your kids that you respect them too by giving them more responsibility around the house or making time for one-on-one activities that show you value their input.
Kids need to be listened to and feel like they have your undivided attention whenever they need it, even if it means putting the baby down or finishing what you’re doing before giving them full attention. Helping them see you take all of their concerns seriously will boost their confidence and strengthen the relationship between your family members.
Involve your children only as much as they want to be involved.
Letting your kids know that they are free to participate as little or as much as they’d like will let them feel empowered around this change. Some parents find it helpful to give each child a task, such as picking out a diaper bag or choosing decorating themes for the nursery, while others prefer that their kids observe and provide support (such as bringing snacks) when they feel up to it.
Let them know that although you appreciate their help, there are no expectations of how much they are involved during this time, and encourage them to withdraw to give themselves time alone if needed.
If your child has a hard time accepting the new baby, let them take some space by going outside or playing in another room for a little while. Reassuring them that they don’t have to participate right away will prevent their feelings from being hurt later on when they’re not welcomed into everything right away.
If you’ve ever had to take care of a baby yourself, you already know how much work is involved. Your children are still young and probably have much more time on their hands than you do, so it might be hard for them to relate to the amount of responsibility that comes with being a parent.
Explain that they are not expected to help out just because you are, and if they have other things that are important to them (such as sports or school), make sure they know it’s OK to prioritize and set limits for themselves.
Respect their space even more than you would normally.
This is a time that they might not be super interested in spending with you, so give them the space they need to feel comfortable around this change.
Letting your kids know they can take part as little or as much as they’d like not only helps them feel empowered but also helps keep you from feeling pressure around getting all of your kids to participate every single day.
If there’s a particular activity they enjoy doing with you or an event that particularly holds their interest, make sure it gets scheduled on days when they might be more willing to get involved.
Expect some changes – kids may regress in behavior.
For some children, this change can help them see that they’re still needed and wanted, but other kids might take this as a sign that something is missing in their lives or question why mommy or daddy would want another child if it means they have less time for the ones they already have. Kids sometimes use these kinds of changes as a reason to act out or regress in behavior.
Let them know that you aren’t upset with them and that it’s normal for these kinds of things to happen when significant changes like having a new baby come into the family.
Don’t take it personally if they suddenly become more difficult, and instead, try giving them more one-on-one time with you during this time so they know that their presence is still valued.
If your child is lashing out because of the new baby, it might be helpful to give him something of your baby’s to hold onto while he calms down. It can help him feel connected to the change without actually having contact with the baby itself.
Let them hold and touch the baby.
For kids to feel respected and confident, they need to know that their input is valued too.
If your child has been involved in the process by helping pick things out or giving you an idea about something she thinks would be helpful once the baby comes home, let her hold him while she’s holding with you.
The most important thing is to respect your children and their feelings. If they don’t want to hold the baby or become involved, let them take a step back and give themselves some space.
It’s also important that you’re there as support if they change their mind later on down the road.
Respect their privacy as much as possible. Don’t force your kids to kiss or touch the baby if they don’t want to, and let them know that even though you hope they will eventually care for their sibling, it’s not a requirement.
Helping your existing children adjust to a new baby in the family is an important task. Not only will it help them develop a sense of duty and respect, but it can also help prevent resentment from forming when they feel that you’re not putting enough effort into getting them adjusted to their newest sibling.
It’s normal for kids to have complex feelings surrounding this change, so giving them the space they need while making sure you’re respecting their emotions at all times is key to helping your children feel like partners rather than problems.
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Marcella Raskin is the founder & editor-in-chief. She is a passionate and articulate writer who has dedicated her life to studying human potential. She has studied Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Life Purpose Coaching, Group Life Coaching. She loves helping women (and men) explore themselves through writing, which allows for an exploration into one’s thoughts on entrepreneurship or personal development topics such as mindset-shaping techniques that can positively shape someone’s perspectives about themselves when they don’t think it could ever happen! She practices sports and has studied Exercise Physiology. She is married and the mother of two girls.