A new baby’s arrival is an exciting event for the whole family—parents, grandparents, and older siblings. And while older siblings will be happy about the new baby, helping your firstborn adjust to the new baby can take some effort. Be gentle on yourself and your firstborn during this transition time.
Like my friend Anna, I haven’t noticed my children display the sibling jealousy that’s usually portrayed in books about new babies. Sunshine (and all her sisters) have all been excited about the new baby. However, toddlers still require a lot of help and attention from their parents, and may get impatient with the new baby requiring mom’s attention.
Here are my tips for helping your firstborn adjust to a new baby.
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Prepare for Baby
It’s a good idea to get older siblings involved with baby even before baby arrives. Depending on your first child’s age, he or she can help buy toys, blankets, or baby clothes for the new baby. Maybe he can help set up the crib for baby.
Even as toddlers, older siblings can accompany you to your prenatal appointments. My daughters all loved getting the chance to hear the baby’s heartbeat on the Doppler. My midwives usually let the girls push the button to turn the Doppler on or off. As we were getting ready to head to one prenatal appointment before Joey was born, his four-year-old sister asked me, “Are we going to get baby out or just listen to him?”
Hello in There: A Sister’s Book of Waiting is an adorable board book about waiting for baby. Each page shows mommy’s growing belling, with baby growing inside, as a big sister impatiently waits for her new baby to arrive. Since waiting is hard for toddlers to understand, this book helps them understand the stages of pregnancy.
Reading together both before and after baby arrives is a great way of helping your firstborn adjust to new baby.
Teach Patience (and Other Virtues)
“Juice peas. Juice peas.”
“Mommy will get you some when she’s done feeding Lily.”
“I want a orange.”
“When Mommy’s done changing Lily.”
“My ball. My ball.”
“No, Mommy’s bouncing Lily. You can bounce later.”
Kids (and toddlers especially) aren’t good at patience. They want something and they want it now. Sometimes I worried that Sunshine would resent her younger sister because she was always waiting for me to do something with Lily before I could do something with her or for her. While she was old enough to understand what “wait” meant (usually), she was also old enough to get upset at having to wait.
That doesn’t mean that the waiting is bad. It’s good for her to learn some patience, to realize that other people have needs to. Just make sure that as soon as you are done helping the baby, you get the older sibling what they need. (I may have been guilty at times of forgetting something a minute after I’ve been asked to do it…)
This may also be a good time to collect some toys that your toddler can play with independently. While shopping for baby things, get a few things for your firstborn too. Some ideas include a doll and doll accessories, new colouring books and markers, pattern block puzzles, wooden bear family dress-up, etc.
Older Siblings Help Out
When Lily was born, Sunshine enjoyed getting Lily’s blanket for her. Older siblings may also enjoy picking out the baby’s outfit for the day. If you’re bottle-feeding instead of breastfeeding, your toddler could help make baby’s bottle. Find little ways like this that your firstborn can be involved with the baby’s care.
All my toddlers have enjoyed helping me change the baby’s diapers. A big sister or brother can help get out the wipes or diapers. They can also hold a toy or learn to play peek-a-boo with the baby. This is a great time to interact with both baby and sibling, and to talk silly baby talk and make faces and have fun.
Some days, Sunshine was better than a baby monitor for knowing when Lily has woken up from a nap and started fussing. She’d tell me, “Lily’s awake!” and go running for the stairs before I’d heard anything.
101 Things to Do With Baby101 Things to Do with Baby is a great book to encourage siblings to be involved with the new baby. It features adorable pictures of an older sister playing with her new baby. Read through it before baby arrives to help a sibling get excited about all the fun she’ll have, or after baby arrives for ideas to do.
Everywhere Babies is a cute board book about what babies do. It shows fun pictures of babies from newborn to age one, and all that they do in between. It’s another fun book to read with a big sibling and talk about what baby will be doing in a few months, as he or she gets bigger, or what they can do with baby now.
Be Like Baby
Firstborn children may also regress in some areas after the baby arrives. What the baby is doing or receiving might seem new and interesting, or they may want the attention that the baby is getting.
If Lily was in the stroller, Sunshine wanted in the stroller too (previously she wanted to walk more). Potty training slowed down for a bit because Sunshine saw me changing Lily’s diapers and wanted hers changed too. And if I was giving Lily some Vitamin D or a saline nose wash, Sunshine wants it too.
Sometimes, you can let both ride in the stroller or have a vitamin. Other times, you can talk to your child about how they did this when they were a baby, but now they are a “big kid” who gets to do other things. Point out some of the perks of being a big kid. This is a conversation to have one-on-one with your toddler at a moment when he or she is calm, and not in the midst of a temper tantrum because she wants to ride in the stroller NOW even though there isn’t any room for her.
Be Like Mommy
Your child may also enjoy being like mommy. My girls had fun wearing their dolls with a Baby Beluga wrap, just like I was wearing their baby brother. If your child doesn’t already have a special dolly, this may be a good time to get them a doll to care for while you care for baby.
Spend One-on-One Time with Your Firstborn
All children love one-on-one dates with their parents, no matter their age. A big reason for sibling jealousy is simply that the baby gets to spend lots of one-on-one time with mommy, when previously the firstborn child enjoyed this.
So Sunshine and I baked cookies or washed dishes while Lily naps. We put Lily in her stroller and walked to the post office and library. We danced together while I was trying to get Lily to burp or settle down. We read books while I was nursing Lily. In these moments, I hoped Sunshine would know she’s just as important to me as Lily is, even if Lily needs more of my time right now.
During the first six weeks postpartum, have Daddy or grandparents plan some dates with your firstborn. After that, let Daddy or grandparents help with baby occasionally so that you can spend some time with your oldest again. This may be as simple as colouring together without baby, or going for a cookie at a nearby coffee shop for twenty minutes. Or you could plan a longer outing to do some shopping (for either child), play at a park, or watch a movie.
How do you help your firstborn adjust to a new baby?
Thanks for the reassurance, Writer Mom and donita! 🙂 That’s good advice.
Speaking as one who became a big sister at the same as age Sunshine, I have no memories of my brother’s existance before we were both preschoolers running around as playmates. Sunshine likely won’t resent you or Lilibet forever… she won’t even remember having to wait for your time! I like what Writer Mom said though about this stage helping to form her character. It’s just a matter of you staying sane during this stage!
I had exactly the same concerns for Ava when my son was born, but my midwife really helped when she told me that it’s better for children to understand that they aren’t the center of the universe as that is good training for life. She convinced me that Ava was learning a valuable life lesson when she had to wait and make room for the baby.
It helped me see it in a positive way instead of a negative way, and as they grow it really is good for both of them to learn to get along and to put the needs of their sibling ahead of themselves occasionally.