Fourth Trimester

Our Favorite Drama-free Tips to Help your Kids Adjust to the New Baby

Author -

Kimberly Jolasun

Ready to ease the transition to big brother or big sister? Check out our top tips to help kids take on and thrive in their new sibling role.

A new baby in the family is big. While there certainly is lots of excitement, change is hard for everyone, especially kids. Whether you already have toddlers, elementary schoolers, preteens, or adolescents, here are some tips to support your kids as your family grows.

Validate your child’s feelings

Kids have a range of emotions related to new babies. They’ll likely express worry, excitement, nervousness, jealousy, and joy, to name just a few! Remind your child that you hear them and love them, no matter what. If we tell kids it’s not okay to feel anger or jealousy, we’re likely to see those emotions come out in their behaviors, which won’t help you, them, or the new baby.

Older sibling: I’m scared the baby is going to cry all the time.

Parent: I understand why you might feel scared about that. Babies do cry quite a bit! It’s not always fun, but I promise the grown ups are here to take care of the baby. The older the baby gets, the less they will cry, just like you! Tell me when the crying bothers you and we can play your favorite song for you or put the sound machine on.

Offer one-on-one time

Even just a few minutes per day of one-on-one time with your older child can prevent challenging behavior during this new baby transition. Something simple, but routine, like reading a book, drawing, watching a show or picking up your kid from school counts! Make sure you give your kid your full attention during this time. Read: put your cell phone down!

Older sibling: Today has been so boring! I’m tired of playing by myself.

Parent: I know it’s been a long day for you. Let’s play just the two of us for a little bit. After five minutes, you can keep playing on your own, or help me make dinner.

Keep information honest and to-the-point

Your older kids may have questions about the baby, and it’s okay to tell them the truth! But find the right, age-appropriate balance. Older siblings don’t need to be overwhelmed with every detail about baby care. Answer questions honestly and in simple terms.

Older sibling: The baby never sleeps! Will it ever get better?

Parent: Brand new babies can’t tell day and night apart, and that is tough! They will sleep more like us eventually.

Celebrate your older kid being a good big brother or big sister

It’s easy to miss positive changes in our kids, especially in the fog of newborn exhaustion! Many children simply need to know that they are still important to you. Recognition is a perfect way to do that. So tell your big kid they are being a great big sibling! Celebrate small (but important) behaviors, like gentle touches and kisses. 

If your older child has been avoiding the baby altogether, praise them for playing in the same room.

Parent: It’s so nice to have you both here! I love getting to watch you play, and you’re doing a great job playing quietly while the baby eats.

Resist Giving Unwanted Behaviors a Big Response

You might hear some big feelings come out in the form of harsh language like “I hate the baby!” or “I don’t want to play with you ever again!”. Ouch! It is tempting to correct, argue, or give a consequence when you hear statements like this. But don't. Just take a big breath. 

Focusing on rude language can send the opposite message…it tells your older child outbursts get them what they want - your attention. Instead, keep your cool and focus on what they are doing well. Remember that your child is trying to express a difficult, overwhelming emotion, and aggression (verbal and physical) is one way to make sure you’re really listening. Ask them why they feel the way they do. If they are too young to articulate their feelings, redirect them to something positive. 

Your older child throws a stuffed animal at baby.

Parent: Wow, that’s a big emotion you must be feeling. What’s going on? If you want to throw something, let’s go outside and throw the ball for the dog. 

Maintain routines whenever you can

Many parents bend house rules and routines for the older kids when a new baby is introduced, thinking this will bring the siblings comfort. All kid’s brains are wired to look for patterns, so if there are no routines to rely on day to day, you’re likely to see bigger behaviors and more emotional upsets. With a new baby at home, it is impossible to keep everything exactly like it was before, so pick a few daily rituals and focus on sticking to those.

Parent: Since the baby is home with us now, bed time might start a little later, but we will always take the time to take a bath, brush our teeth and read one book together.

Create positive associations with the new baby

Some kids may feel like their world has been turned upside down with the arrival of a new baby. To make the transition more enjoyable, you can intentionally create opportunities for positive associations. That means, if a sibling finds it hard to be quiet when the baby rests, you can bring out a special set of toys only when the baby naps. If they’re feeling left out, you can start a new tradition like having the older sibling pick the baby’s outfit each morning. When you emphasize the positive side of being an older sibling it can shift the mindset of a child who has been stuck on the challenges.

Parent: The baby is napping again! That means we can get out the crayons and paper.

Include siblings in activities with the baby

For kids, the hardest part about having a new sibling is often feeling left out. When possible, invite your child to come with you while you take care of the baby - like handing you wipes and new diapers. Even if they can’t be a hands-on helper, they can usually still participate alongside you. If you have a toddler, giving them a baby doll or stuffed animal to take care of can help.

I’m going to change the baby, do you want to come with me and change your baby doll at the same time? 

Don’t Force It

Some kids can barely contain their excitement about meeting the new baby. Others keep their distance, or even refuse to engage with the baby! Gentle encouragement is okay, but too much pushing from parents and older siblings are likely to resist more and more. I promise your kids will interact, eventually!

Parent: I can help you sit with the baby, if you’d like.

Older sibling: No!

Parent: Okay! Let me know if you change your mind. I’ll check again tomorrow.

Over time, a new normal will set in that includes all the kids. Know that it is healthy for sibling relationships to change over time. They may spend months as each other’s best friends and play together constantly, followed by a period of time when they bicker, and then keep to themselves for a while, and then get along great again. Modeling kindness, respect, and cooperation for your kids will set a foundation for healthy sibling relationships, even if there are some bumps along the way!

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