Introducing a new baby into the family is both an exciting, yet a challenging time for the big brother or sister. How you choose to tell the child about a new sibling and preparing them for changes in their family life will vary depending on the age difference, but there are some rules of thumb experts recommend creating the best possible environment for your expanding family.
Babies are never easy, and jealous older siblings who act out will only make the transition that much harder. Preparing older children in advance and helping them feel included in the process can go a long way to a smooth and happy family life.
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Nearly 80% of children in the U.S. have at least one sibling, indicating that the birth of a baby sibling is a normal transition for most children. Child psychologists believe the transition is stressful, causing a developmental crisis for most children. The more time your child has to get used to the idea of a new baby, the better. When mom is pregnant, experts agree it’s best to tell your child as soon as the baby begins to show. “It’s always best to be honest to avoid making kids anxious about what’s happening,” says Dr. Mandi Silverman, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. “So, don’t wait too long to tell your child.” If the family is adopting or using surrogacy, the coming baby may not be visibly obvious, Dr. Silverman adds, “but definitely still start the conversation early.” Dr. Silverman stresses that parents need to give children as much time as possible to ask all the questions they need to but also to get in some extra special alone time with each parent. “The key thing here is that parents need to indicate that this is a positive thing for a family,” Parents can ease this change by preparing children well in advance for the upcoming birth or adoption in age-appropriate language. The child or children need to know what to expect and how their situation will change. There are plenty of books and videos in kid-friendly form covering this topic. These resources are available at many libraries and bookstores, also online. Most importantly, parents should try to make existing children feel important and involved during this exciting and stressful time in the family’s life. Young children can talk to Mommy’s belly or help decorate the baby’s nursery. Games can be played to come up with silly and serious names for the new baby. Parents should also repeatedly emphasize that with new additions of family members comes new roles, which offer even more opportunities to give the child purpose and meaning. For example, family members can tell little Johnathan he is now “Best Big Brother Johnathan” and this means he will have a new playmate, and someone new to love and help care for. Eve though it’s not necessary, family members can buy a small gift (a big brother/sister tee shirt, small toy, etc.) to give to older children when the new baby comes home, while reminding them that they are still special and important. She says. “It’s a change, and change — whether it’s good or bad — is something that takes time to get used to.”
With all of the changes that comes with a new baby, some older kids may struggle as they try to adjust.
Encourage older kids to talk about their feelings about the new baby. If a child cannot express those feelings, don’t be surprised if he or she tests limits or has other behavior problems.
If your child acts up, it’s very important to not bend the rules, but to understand what feelings may be behind that behavior. It may be a sign that your child needs more one-on-one time with you but make it clear that although his or her feelings are important, they have to be expressed in the appropriate ways.
Take advantage of chances for one-on-one time with older kids. Spend time together while the baby is sleeping and, if possible, set aside time each day for older kids to get one parent’s undivided attention. Knowing that there’s special time just for them may help ease any resentment or anger about the new baby.
Also remind relatives and friends that your older child might want to talk about something other than the new baby or do an activity just for them. If relatives or friends ask how they can help, suggest a fun activity or something special for the older child.
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