Getting a new sibling is a significant change in your child’s life. No matter how excited (or unexcited) they seem right now, they will have some adjusting to do once their little sibling arrives. They will likely experience some negative emotions as their routine and family dynamic shift, but it will all be for the better with time as they grow closer and close to their new best friend.
Below, we will investigate what you can expect from your older child when your new baby comes home, as well as a few tips to support them through this life-changing event:
Actions and Emotions to Expect
A Range of Emotions — When you meet your new baby for the first time, it will be hard to imagine ever feeling anything but love for the sweet little one entering your life. For your toddler, there is a lot more to take in. Of course, they’ll love their little sibling too as time goes on (or maybe even right away), but they’ll likely feel many more emotions at the same time. They may feel worried that mom and dad are now spending more time with another child, they may feel stressed by the change in routine, or they may feel upset by the baby's crying. All these emotions are normal and to be expected.
Even if it is challenging at first, try not to focus on the love -or lack thereof- as your oldest child takes time to adjust.
Possible Regressions — The change, the added stress, and possibly the lower level of attention your toddler receives can lead to them acting younger than they are or regressing in areas they mastered months ago. They are not trying to do wrong with their accidents, late-night wakeups, or sudden pacifier search — they are simply trying to ensure you still love and support them as much as you do their little sibling.
Try not to express too many negative emotions when things go wrong and praise your child for their independence and “big kid behavior” as it occurs instead.
A Need for Routine — As parents, your routine will change significantly when a new baby comes home. Your toddler will feel this too, and it can be overwhelming for them. Try to stick to the normal wake up, snack, meal, and bedtimes whenever possible. Try to stay consistent in areas of rules and boundaries as well.
Your toddler will find comfort in each area of their day that stays the same.
What You Can Do to Help
Honest Preparation — You want your older child to love the new baby, but you want them to be prepared for reality, too. If your child is old enough to understand, be sure you have a few talks about babies crying, moms and dads feeling more tired than usual, and the many tasks that come with newborns, from feedings every few hours to lots of smelly diaper changes. Try not to make these sound overwhelming.
Simply let your child know that you will be doing more, that they can help you if they would like to, and that you’ll still be there to play with them, talk to them, and meet all of their needs as well.
Special Bonding Time — Once the baby arrives, setting aside special time with your older child can help them understand that you’re still there for them just as much as you were before. Play a game with your toddler while your partner feeds the baby or puts them down to sleep. Watch their favorite movie with a special snack after baby’s bedtime.
The alone time your older child gets with you will show them you are there for them no matter how much extra attention their little sibling needs.
A “Helper” Role — If your toddler struggles while you care for your newborn, consider asking if they would like to help. Many children, even of the youngest age, will feel more connected to the experience if they are able to grab a diaper for changing time or help you with baby’s bath time.
Praise your child for the involvement they have with their new sibling, so they see they are able to be a part of this fun, slightly overwhelming new journey too. It will not be long until they are playing with their little sibling all on their own.
No matter how big this change is, your toddler is ready to take it on. They will need a bit of extra support and understanding at times, but as the days, weeks, and months go by, they’ll start to realize that their newest sibling is the best gift they could ever receive.