Your existing child or children may wind up having a love-hate relationship with their new baby sister or brother as they settle into the new routine. While heartbreaking to experience - not to mention exhausting for parents making the adjustments into newborn life - this is completely normal. And, fortunately, child psychologists and child development experts offer tons of advice - and tips - on how to ease that transition and transform new baby jealousy into Love with a capital “L.
Have some “fur babies” in the house as well? Visit, What to Expect: Introducing Your Fur Baby To Your Newborn.
Things Your Can Do Before Baby Arrives
If you’re still pregnant and preparing for the arrival of the baby, supporting your toddler or firstborn ahead of time is a wise idea. While this may involve actual conversations about how things might seem different after the baby comes home, most of these tips involve simple awareness and shifts in how you engage with your child on a daily basis.
1. Prepare for some regression
Regression is very common for toddlers and young children who experience major transitions - like the addition of a new baby! This may mean waking up again in the middle of the night, wetting their pants, reclaiming their thumb or pacifier for comfort, wanting to be held like a baby etc. They may even want to use a bottle again - and that’s fine. I promise, it won’t last forever.
Behavioral regression is very normal, and you can support it by letting your child be seen:
“I know it’s not easy always being a big girl/boy…”
“Why don’t you come snuggle on the couch with me while I nurse the baby…”
“Don’t worry. Here’s a clean pair of underwear/pants, and let me show you what to do when you have an accident”
The good news is that your compassionate witnessing their experience, and allowing children to regress just a bit, is exactly what will help them establish their role as “the big sister/brother” again.
2. Transition into the next stage of development before baby arrives
If you wait until the baby arrives to enforce things like moving from a crib into a bed, staying in their bed at night, weaning from breastfeeding, potty training, etc., your child will inherently blame the baby for it.
By making these transitions into older toddler/big girl/boy world ahead of time, the routines are more established and the baby’s arrival can be embraced as the older sibling, rather than a fellow baby whose role has been usurped by the interloper.
3. Establish scheduled “special time”
Special time with your child - which can be as little as 15 uninterrupted minutes - is proven to strengthen bonds and improve behavior in children who are having a hard time. Start scheduling “special time” or “time in” with you child at least once a week before you go into labor. Alternate these windows of time with your partner so you have support. Then, continue maintaining that routine after the baby arrives so your firstborn preserves a way to be your focus.
Read, How to Use Time-In…,for specific guidelines, tips, and ideas.
4. Help your child bond with “The Bump”
Your beautiful, ever-growing belly that comes alive with kicks and movement in the later stages of your pregnancy provides a means for your child to bond with baby before s/he arrives. Talk about the baby in terms of “ours” rather than “my,” and use a doll or favorite stuffy to practice how we hold a baby, talk to a baby, treat a baby, etc.
Talk about how things will change when the baby comes, and let your child offer ideas for how s/he might be able to feel a part of things and loved (a small rocker and baby with bottle to feed when mommy is feeding, a special lovey to hold and cuddle when mommy/daddy have to hold the baby, having an extra bottle that s/he can use to drink water or juice (your child will think this is funny now, but may love that later on), and so on.
Once the new baby arrives
Once your baby arrives, continue developing ways to support your existing child(ren) while tending to the needs of the newborn.
5. Don’t leave your newborn unattended with toddlers or small children
Eventually, this won’t be an issue. However, in the beginning, you should never leave a newborn or infant unattended with a toddler or small child. While maliciousness deriving from jealousy is a potential, small children often try to “help” in ways that are harmful to a newborn. By preventing these accidents, you support the safety of all and prevent negative interactions between you and your young child that stem directly from the baby.
6. Use a sling or hands-free carrier
The struggle with accommodating a newborn and his/her sibling is that it often requires more hands than you have. Using a sling or hands-free carrier, gives your newborn precisely what s/he wants - continuous access to the mama habitat - while also freeing up hands to take a walk holding hands, use an arm to snuggle up a sleeping sibling, play a game, etc.
7. Set up a changing station for 3
Think bigger than diapers when setting up your changing station(s). In addition to all the diapers and changing accessories, add some fun toys, card games, and favorite snacks or juice boxes. Now, instead of being yet another time that you spend paying attention to baby - and not sibling - your older child(ren) are rewarded with tasty attention and some things to call their own.
8. Encourage relatives/friends to bring a sibling gift
In most cases, you have far more than you’ll ever need before the baby comes. In that case, encourage understanding family and friends to bring a small “sibling gift” instead of baby gifts when they come to see the new baby. This puts a fun spin on the baby’s arrival and one that makes your child feel special.
Bonus Tip: Schedule a sibling session with a newborn photographer
As the owner of Lemonshoots, and a photographer specializing in maternity and newborn images, I’ve seen firsthand how newborn photo sessions focusing on the baby and his/her sibling(s), grandparents, and special individuals strengthen bonds and create memories that last a lifetime - in hearts as well as in the finished artwork created for your walls and home.
Contact me, Marcela Limon, on my website or give me a call at (510) 747-9019 to learn more about your session.