Sibling Adjustment To Baby

A new baby's entry into the family is a major transition for everyone, but most especially for the other little ones in the home. Marla Hardee Milling offers some advice to prepare your children for a sibling.
Marla Hardee Milling

Sibling rivalry
If you peeked inside our family photo album, you'd see the very first photo of our family of four taken at the hospital. The snapshot shows a weary, but smiling, mom cradling newborn Hannah; a proud dad gazing at his new daughter; and two-year-old Ben sitting on the end of the bed. His mouth is bent in a strange angle -- not quite a smile, but not really a smirk. His facial expression speaks volumes and seems to whisper, "Don't forget about me."

During pregnancy, I had talked with Ben about the new baby. He would feel my stomach, and sometimes I felt as if the baby were already engaged in sibling rivalry: She'd punch my belly with great force whenever Ben snuggled close beside me. But until I saw the photo, I didn't fully understand the impact a new sibling would have on him.

Major life transition
A new baby's entry into the family is especially tough on your children. "The first thing to remember is the existing child was not given an option on the addition of a new baby. The time this child spent with the parents alone will now be split in half with the arrival of the new baby," says Dr Gail M. Gross, a nationally recognized expert on child and juvenile education, development and behavior. Gross hosts the radio show, "Let's Talk," and a weekly education segment on PBS in Houston.

"The first child will be the most affected by the birth of the second child, especially if the [older] child is a toddler," continues Gross. "The first child has had the sole attention of the parents and will now have to share. Toddlers may begin to act out -- they will become aggressive and throw tantrums. When children regress to this type of behavior, they are looking for comfort. They feel threatened and vulnerable, and feel they have lost control." Gross says nurturing the parental bond with older siblings is important so they know they can continue to count on you for love and support.

"Parents can avoid some of the negative impact of a new baby by spacing children at least three years apart. By the age of three, a child is no longer as dependent on parents and will be more accepting of a new baby," says Gross.

Get siblings involved
"For young children and toddlers, it is important for parents to draw them in as an ally," says Gross. She advises including the child in decisions about the new baby and offers the following suggestions:

  • Let children help brainstorm names for baby.
  • Invite their input on nursery theme or wall color.
  • Include siblings in shopping trips for the new baby.

Let them pretend
One way to get young children used to the idea of living with a baby is to give them one of their own. A doll gives children the opportunity to care for and nurture their "baby," which can aid in the adjustment to the real baby who will soon take up residence in the home. One such doll is the BABY born doll, made by the Zapf Creation Company. BABY born's design is realistic, with rolls of baby fat and a raised belly button, and demonstrates seven life-like functions.

For older children, Small Fry Productions offers a videotape called You Are a Masterpiece. Designed for children ages 5 through 12, this video teaches about life before birth with computer animation and in utero photography.

Spend time reading to your child
Books such as I'm a Big Brother, I'm a Big Sister and The New Baby at Your House, by Joanna Cole, and Barney Meets the New Baby, by Maureen M. Valvassori can help prepare children, as well as give them some close, intimate time with you.

You may also want to "borrow" a friend or neighbor's baby at intervals throughout your pregnancy and care for him in the presence of your children. This will help them get accustomed to having a baby in the house.

Rethink gift giving
Should a child receive a gift from his brand-new baby brother or sister? Dr Gross says no. "I don't advise giving the child a gift from the new baby because it is not genuine, and the child, no matter the age, will sense or know that an infant can't buy a gift," says Gross. "Instead, work on creating a bond with the child and demonstrate your reliability and trustworthiness. The child needs to know the addition of the new baby does not diminish her importance or [your love for her]. Set aside special time before and especially after the new baby arrives to spend with the older child."

Announce it in a BIG way:
I'm going to be a big sister | I'm going to be a big brother

Foster an environment in which siblings can get along well instead of becoming rivals. One way to do this is by never comparing siblings or creating a sense of competition among them.

In the event of sorrow
Tragically, not all pregnancies result in a live birth. Parents who suffer loss through miscarriage or stillbirth will have not only the emotional heartache of dealing with the loss, but also the challenge of explaining it to the other children. Dr Gross offers the following advice:

  1. Give your child age-appropriate information. A child younger than five or six does not need a full explanation. Children older than six may request and need more answers. You know your child best: know their child and decide how much information is necessary.
  2. Be honest. Always tell your child the truth. Again, this does not mean providing a toddler or young child with too much information. Children this young may only require a simple but truthful answer.
  3. Be strong. Don't burden your children with your hurt. They need to see their parents as strong to feel secure and protected. Feelings of insecurity can cause children anxiety and to act out in an aggressive manner. Seek counseling if necessary.
Additional resources
Preparing a child for the birth of a sibling can be very challenging, yet ultimately very rewarding. Assure the child that there won't be less love to go around after the new one comes; instead, your heart will simply expand to give equal and abundant love to each of

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