Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Tips For Dealing With Older Siblings When The New Baby Arrives

Older siblings often have mixed feelings about a new baby in the house. They may be excited for the baby to arrive, but once it does, they find themselves with less time with mom and dad and they realize that this new baby will not be able to play with them or do anything exciting. They may get upset when grandma and grandpa make a fuss over the new baby. Helping older children cope with a new baby can be difficult. It is inevitable that there will be some jealousy when the new baby arrives, and it can manifest itself in a variety of ways.

For instance, my daughter was two when her younger brother was born. She took to him right away, wanting to be near him every second that she could. However, we could tell that she was angry with my husband and I because she didn't want much to do with us! She loved that baby brother of hers but she still had mixed feelings about us bringing him home.

Sometimes, the sibling jealousy doesn't appear as soon as the baby is born, either. When I had my third child, which was also a boy, my older son liked him fine when he came home and didn't really get upset about him that we could see. But when his baby brother started walking and getting into his things, he got very upset. He wanted that baby brother to go away. He also did not like sharing his older sister with his baby brother. He informed me on several occasions that his baby brother needed his own sister to play with because my older daughter was his to play with!

There are a lot of things parents can do to help minimize the stress of having a new sister or brother for older siblings. It can start even before the baby is born. For instance, you can enroll the older child in a sibling class. These are often offered by the local hospital and they provide great information about new babies at a level that children can understand. These classes are also designed to help them deal with some of their concerns and anxieties about the new baby before it is born.

Other things you can do before the birth is allow the older child to help pick out things for the new baby. We let our daughter pick out her little brother's wallpaper border from a choice of three that we had narrowed it down to. She helped choose new baby clothes and other baby items. We also took her to two or three of my doctor visits so that she could hear her brother's heartbeat and see him on the ultrasound. I put her hands on my tummy when he was moving so she could feel it. We talked to her about the new baby and we also bought her a baby doll so that she could take care of it when I had to take care of her new brother. All these things make an older child feel like a part of what is happening. This can help minimize some of those sibling jealousy feelings.

Once the new baby is born, if your hospital will allow it, bring your older child to visit the baby in the hospital and to see that mommy is doing fine. Some children have anxieties about their mother being at the hospital. When baby comes home, it is a good idea to have a few small, wrapped gifts for your older child to have because baby is usually overwhelmed with gifts, and this can make your other child feel left out. So by having a few inexpensive gifts for them to open when the baby is receiving so many things, you can prevent some hurt feelings. My mother brought my daughter a big stuffed rabbit when she brought over things for the baby. She was thrilled and was happy to help open the gifts for the baby.

As the new routine starts with a new baby, an older sibling will quickly learn that having this new baby means less time with mommy and daddy. Parents may also be less active and more irritable depending on the amount of sleep they are getting. One way that I tried to make up for this with both of my older children is to spend time with them while the baby was sleeping. When they went down for their afternoon nap, I would read them a story while holding them in the rocking chair. This was time for them with mommy that was (hopefully) uninterrupted by baby where they could snuggle and feel close and be the center of my attention for a short time. I also tried not to alter their routines much. Children feel a lot of safety in their routines, and having a new baby in the house will inevitably upset some of those routines, so I tried to stay as close a s possible to the routine they had.

Now that my children are older, my husband and I both make the effort to spend time alone with each of our three children. Of course, since the youngest is a toddler, this doesn't always work out! But we try by taking any opportunity that arises. If my husband or I have to go to the store, we take turns taking a different child with us. We take the two older children to the afternoon matinee on Saturday and leave the baby with Grandma. One or both of us makes it to every dance performance, soccer game, school program, etc. I help out in my older two children's classes once a month. We bake cookies together, build snowmen, and I even use the time folding laundry, mopping floors, and other household chores to have them help me and talk about anything they want. I try to listen and pay attention to what they are not saying as well as what they are saying.

My husband and I know that there willl always be sibling rivalry and the occasional jealousy episode in our home. We're not perfect parents. Everyone can remember a time in their lives when they felt like their sister was getting more attention, or that dad was favoring someone, or felt bad because someone else got something extra. It is part of having siblings. Yet most people I know wouldn't change it by being only children. I grew up with four siblings. We fought and squabbled like normal kids, but as adults, we all enjoy each other's company most of the time. I want my children to feel the same way about their siblings. So we try our best, take time when we can, and hope that our children understand that we love all three of them and that spending time with one does not mean we don't love the others.

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