You’ve bought all the books. You’ve had all the age appropriate conversations. You’ve prepared your older child (or children!) for the arrival of their new sibling. You’ve given it your best effort, and when the big moment arrives? You finally get to bring your new baby home?
There are many things that can and probably will happen in regards to the way older siblings will adjust. This of course depends on a few key factors:
- The age of the older sibling.
- The preparation that has been done before the baby arrives.
- The involvement of the sibling after the baby is home.
Let’s take a look at each factor a bit more in depth:
The age of the older sibling – there’s definitely a difference bringing home a newborn baby to a toddler versus to a teenager, although introducing a new sibling at any age will cause a shift for all older siblings regardless of age. A few things to think about when taking into account the sibling age factor:
- Toddlers and Elementary School Aged Siblings – these are the ones you typically think of having to prepare most when bringing home a new baby. They may not always be able to communicate their needs or feelings, and can often have explosive and tumultuous reactions to having to suddenly share their attention with a sibling.
- Middle School and High School Aged Siblings – families today come in all different shapes and sizes, and when there are much older siblings in the home, it may feel like there doesn’t need to be as much prep or discussion. After all, they’re old enough to care for their own basic needs most of the time, a new sibling should be easy? Right? Not always, and older children and teenagers are better at hiding their emotions than their smaller siblings. Keep an eye on other telltale signs that they may be having a hard time, such as withdrawing or struggling in school, and make space for them to talk to you about their feelings.
The preparation before baby arrives – starting the conversations early and having them often with siblings is important preparation for when the new baby arrives, but putting some other supports in place is important as well:
- Having a designated baby-free zone in the house – this can help older siblings feel like they’ve still got some of their pre-baby freedoms, and can provide them a designated space to go to if they feel overstimulated, overwhelmed, or just want to be by themselves. Have your other child(ren) help you identify and set up this space so they know where to go and feel comfortable going there.
- Start identifying areas where the new baby will be involved – If you and your older child(ren) have a grocery store routine, talk about how the baby will be involved once they come home. Or when you pick them up from school, start putting the new baby’s carseat in the car. Little adjustments, reminders, and opportunities to open the door for discussion can go a long way once the baby arrives!
The involvement of the sibling once you bring your new baby home – this baby isn’t just for mom to care for! It takes a whole family, and while you may not have your two year old changing diapers, asking them to help you care for their new sibling by bringing you the wipes makes them feel important and also gives them a chance to interact in a positive manner. Here are some suggestions of how to involve siblings of all ages:
- Toddlers – ask them for help with small care tasks, as mentioned above, or give them a chance to safely interact with their new sibling during tummy time, snuggle time, or bedtime. Giving them a reason to get close and being there to gently redirect or encourage their behavior around the new baby is helpful for all!
- Elementary Aged Siblings – these kiddos may be able to start helping you with some easy chores or tasks that happen throughout the day. This shows them that they are no longer the “baby” of the family, and helping out their parents can be fun! Some low hanging fruit could be picking up toys, putting laundry into hampers, or helping to set the table.
- Middle School and High School siblings – these siblings are definitely able to take on some more advanced responsibilities, and may even be able to do light babysitting (think: watching the baby while you take a shower, easily accessible and available in the next room). Again, this makes them feel involved, seen for the responsible young adult they are.
If you’re curious about ways to help siblings transition to a new addition to the family, reach out! Our doulas at New LIfe Doulas specialize in assisting families with support, education, and compassion around adding a new member to their family!