The experience of bringing a newborn home is a little different the second time around. With your first child, you were probably focused on the transition to parenting and figuring out how to care for a baby. With the second — or third or fourth — baby, you’re more likely wondering how your older child or children are going to react to having a new sibling and how you’re going to juggle and meet all of their needs. Help set the tone for your children’s early interactions by preparing your older child or children for what’s ahead.
Introducing your new baby
You’ve probably been talking to your older child for a while now about the arrival of your new baby. Perhaps your child has asked questions about mom’s growing stomach, gone along to prenatal checkups or helped set up the nursery. Or maybe your child attended a sibling preparation class at your hospital. But it may still be difficult to know how your child will react to an addition to the family and the changes a new baby will bring.
While older children are typically eager to meet a new sibling, young children may be confused or upset and have a hard time adjusting — especially as the new baby sleeps less and begins to demand more of your attention. Explain to your older child that your newborn will probably cry, sleep and eat most of the time. The baby won’t be a playmate right away.
To minimize the stress your child might experience once the new baby comes, think ahead. If your child will need to change rooms or move out of the crib so that your new baby can use it, do this before the new baby is born. It will give your older child a chance to get used to the new setup before dealing with the other changes associated with the new baby’s arrival. Arrange for your child
s care during labor and delivery, and explain the plan to your child.
When the new baby arrives, arrange to bring your child to the hospital if visitors are allowed. It’s a great way for your child to meet the new baby and spend special time with mom and dad. Ask another family member to hold the baby for a while so that you can give your older child plenty of cuddles. Consider giving your older child a gift that’s from the baby — such as a T-shirt that says big brother or big sister — to celebrate the new baby’s arrival.
Your older child’s age and development will affect how he or she reacts to having a new sibling.
- Children under age 2 — Young children likely won’t understand yet what it means to have a new sibling. Try talking to your child about the new addition to your family and looking at picture books about babies and families.
- Children ages 2 to 4 — Children at this age may feel uncomfortable sharing your attention with a newborn. Explain to your child that the baby will need lots of attention. And encourage your child’s involvement by taking him or her shopping for baby items. Read to your child about babies, brothers and sisters. Give your child a doll so that he or she can practice taking care of it. Look at your child’s baby pictures together. Tell him or her the story of his or her birth. If there’s time, complete your child’s toilet training before the baby is born. Otherwise, wait until a few months after you bring your baby home to start the process.
Keep in mind that siblings sometimes regress after the arrival of a new baby — such as by having toilet training accidents, drinking from a bottle or asking to be carried to bed. They want to be sure they still have your attention. There’s no need to punish such behavior. Instead, give your child plenty of love and assurance. Don’t forget to praise your child when he or she demonstrates good behavior.
- School-age children — Children age 5 and older generally are pretty excited about having a new baby in the house. But they also may feel jealous of how much attention the baby gets. Talk to your child about your newborn’s needs. Encourage your child to get involved by helping to decorate the baby’s room with handmade artwork and participating in taking care of the baby.
Be sure to explain the importance of being gentle with the new baby. Point out to your child the advantages of being older, such as being able to go to bed later or play with certain toys. Show your appreciation for your child’s help in caring for and entertaining the baby and share your delight in the baby’s behaviors.
- All children — Regardless of your older child’s age, make sure that he or she gets plenty of individual attention from you and other family members once your baby arrives. Grandparents can be particularly helpful during this time. Watching mom and dad coo over a new baby can be frustrating for an older child. If you’re taking lots of pictures or videos, be sure to include your older child, too. Take some pictures or videos of him or her alone, as well as with the new baby. During your newborn’s feedings, try to make your older child feel included by talking or reading stories together. Reassure your older child that you love him or her and your new baby. And remind your older child that he or she has an important role to play now, too — that of big brother or big sister.
Right now, sibling rivalry may not be a concern, but it can become an issue as your youngest gets older and competes with other children for parents’ love and respect. Signs of sibling rivalry might include hitting, name-calling, bickering and regressive behavior. This kind of behavior is common after the birth of a new baby — but it can also happen anytime one child in the family receives extra attention.
While sibling rivalry is a natural part of growing up, many factors can affect how well your children might get along with each other, including their sexes, ages and personalities, as well as the size of your family and each child’s position in it. For example, younger children might be more likely to fight physically, while older children might argue instead.
Children who have less than a two-year age difference might battle each other more than children who have bigger age gaps between them. Although children of the same sex might share more of the same interests, they might also be more likely to compete against each other.
Middle children might feel less secure and be more likely to seek affection because they may believe they don’t get the same privileges or attention as the oldest or youngest child in the family.
Although all siblings are bound to fight, tease and tattle on one another at some point, there are things you can do as a parent to encourage healthy sibling relationships now and as your children get older. Consider these tips.
- Respect each child’s unique needs — Treating your children uniformly isn’t always practical — and the harder you try, the more your children may look for signs of unfairness. Instead, focus on trying to meet each child’s unique needs.
- Avoid comparisons — Comparing your children’s abilities can cause them to feel hurt and insecure. While it’s natural to notice your children’s differences, try to avoid discussing them out loud in front of your children. When praising one of your children, stick to describing his or her action or accomplishment — rather than comparing it with how his or her sibling does things.
- Set the ground rules — Make sure your children understand what you consider acceptable and unacceptable behavior when it comes to interacting with each other, as well as the consequences of their misbehavior. Consistently follow through with consequences, such as a loss of certain privileges or a timeout, when your children break the rules.
- Listen to your children — Being a sibling can be frustrating. Let your children vent their negative feelings about each other, and listen. Respond by showing your child that you understand what he or she is feeling. If your child is old enough, you can ask him or her to help in devising an acceptable solution to whatever is bothering him or her. If you have siblings, share stories of conflicts you had with your brother or sister when you were a child. Holding regular family meetings can give your children a chance to talk about and work out sibling issues.
- Don’t take sides — Try to avoid being drawn into your children’s battles unless physical aggression is involved or safety is in jeopardy. Encourage your children to settle their own differences. While you may need to help younger children resolve disputes, refrain from taking sides. In addition, avoid using teasing or derogatory nicknames for your children that might perpetuate sibling rivalry.
- Give praise — When you see your children playing well together or working as a team, compliment them. A little praise and encouragement can go a long way.
Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Years, Second EditionShop Now
Children’s health information and parenting tips to your inbox.
Sign-up to get Mayo Clinic’s trusted health content sent to your email. Receive a bonus guide on ways to manage your child’s health just for subscribing.