Getting Kids Ready for a New Sibling

O Growing Up

Welcoming a new sibling is a common childhood experience. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that nearly 80 percent of families have more than one child.

The arrival of a new brother or sister is one of the most momentous, exciting events in a child’s life, says Robin Chancer, a social worker at Wake Forest Baptist Medical  Center in Winston-Salem. But kids won’t always welcome the new bundle with open arms. Toddlers and preschoolers may be overly curious or jealous, while older children and teens may act indifferent or resentful. Parents can help ease the new-baby transition with specific tactics for siblings of all ages.

0-5 Prepare in Advance

For toddlers and preschoolers, advance preparation can make the difference between a smooth sibling transition and a chaotic postpartum period. Prepare the new baby’s living and sleeping space — whether in a solo bedroom, your room or a sibling’s room — well in advance of the baby’s arrival. Likewise, any major transitions, like potty training, weaning or starting a new day care, should take place at least a month or two before the birth.

But even with plenty of advance preparation, most kids will experience some regression and lapse back into baby mode after a new sibling comes home. Toilet-training accidents, sudden nighttime awakenings, and requests for long-forgotten bottles or pacifiers are common.

Allow tots to help whenever possible (by feeding baby a bottle, singing a lullaby, or fetching diapers or wipes) to help foster a sense of pride and self-esteem, and ultimately make for a quicker adjustment, Chancer says.

6-10 Make Time

Elementary-age kids are becoming more independent, but they still need plenty of their parents’ time, whether for homework help, transportation to and from extracurricular activities, or talking about life’s daily ups and downs. When kids see that a newborn sibling zaps all of mom and dad’s time and energy, resentment can set in.

The key to preventing new-baby bitterness is giving children daily one-on-one time with both mom and dad, Chancer says.

“Try to give your older child your full attention for at least 15 minutes a day. Knowing that [he or she] can count on that time with you is comforting,” she says.

Kids need to connect with both parents during this busy time, so don’t designate dad as the go-to parent for older kids while mom does all of the baby care. Elementary-age kids may be eager to help, so enjoy the extra hands for bathing, dressing, feeding and diaper changes. In general, though, kids younger than 12 aren’t old enough to babysit alone.

11-18 Talk About Changes

Characteristically complicated and emotional, tweens and teens may feel conflicted about a new baby’s arrival. As with younger kids, advance preparation can help soothe jangly nerves and smooth the way for a better sibling bond.

A few months before the new baby arrives, make sure tweens and teens know how the new arrival will change the family’s daily routine. For example, if parents will have to miss sports events or recitals for a couple of weeks after the birth, let kids know now. Chores and household responsibilities may shift after the baby arrives, so discuss any impending changes well before baby is due.

Don’t assume a tween or teen will be an automatic babysitter, Chancer says. “Gauge how conscientious your children are before allowing them to babysit,” she says. “And before you leave home, make sure you have clear plans in place for what to do in case of emergency.”

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