Helping a Child Adapt To A New Sibling: After Flying Solo, It’s a Big Change For Any Youngster

Being the only one in a home lets a child feel like they are the proverbial apple of mom and dad’s eyes – they are the center of the universe, and all their parents’ energy, devotion and love is aimed squarely their way.

And then things may begin to change. A new baby is on the way (or has arrived) and your young toddler or six year old isn’t at all sure the lifestyle change is going to be to their liking. After all, they suddenly have to share the most important people in the world with someone they don’t know and, quite frankly, are not entirely sure they will like! The new situation may be mystifying to them, even a little scary.

Who can blame them?

Adjusting to having a new sibling is hard on children, particularly only children. In this article, we offer some strategies and suggestions for helping them adapt to the idea of a new brother or sister. We also offer ideas about how you can then help them deal with this new person once they do arrive.

1. Dote on your child even more than usual.

Any young child who is coping with a new sibling is bound to have reservations about it at first – they may not understand what has happened, emotionally or intellectually, the way adults do. Remind them that nothing about your love for them has changed – in fact, it’s growing because there is now another child. Put everything about your new child’s arrival in positive terms and share as much as possible with them. (Save concerns about your children not sharing for your parenting group!)

2. When the baby arrives, include your firstborn as much as you can.

There is no getting around the fact that life in the home changes profoundly with the arrival of a sibling, but you can make the adjustment smoother for your child by including them as much as possible. Let them watch you change and feed the baby, and (if they are old enough) ask if they would like to try holding the infant, under your supervision, of course. The more you actively foster a growing bond between your elder sibling and your newborn, the better.

3. Try to keep your child’s routine consistent.

Naturally, a new baby at home throws everyone’s schedule into disarray, at least for the first few months. But if you can resist saying things like, “we can’t go to the zoo because the baby is sleeping,” or “you’ve got to be quiet to let your little sister sleep,” your child will feel their life hasn’t been too disrupted by the new arrival. Take turns with your partner when it comes to activities with your child, so they still feel loved and attended to, even though the baby demands so much time and energy. It is delicate terrain, certainly, that parents must navigate between the older child and the new sibling!

4. Talk about the benefits of having a sibling.

How you approach this depends on your child’s age, but telling them about the joys of “sibling hood” can make a big impression. Remind them that this new person represents a bond they will share with no one else on earth because that is how deep sibling love runs. Talk about how much you enjoyed having brothers and sisters growing up, and why they are still such a strong presence in your life.

Bringing a new baby home from the hospital is not the only way a child acquires a sibling, of course – when families blend, often a new spouse comes with children of their own who must integrate into a household. (We will talk about that in a coming blog post).

But bringing a newborn home presents many unique challenges for a child, and these are not always, or easily, solved with just a few reassuring words. It’s important that you remind your child as often as possible, through words but especially through your deeds, of the special place they have in your heart. A place that no one – not even a new sibling – can take from them. Emphasize how your heart has grown to include two children (or more) now, and how this change fills you with joy. Include your child as much as you can in baby care, particularly if they want to learn how to change diapers or even assist in feeding the infant.

If you have a nanny, this is the perfect time to ask them to pay extra attention to your child, to be sure you know how they are coping with the changes. Sometimes children talk more openly with their nanny about these issues, because they don’t want to hurt their parents’ feelings by expressing reservations about having a new sibling.

The key to a calm transition from only child status to being a sibling is communication, with parents, with the nanny, and even with teachers and family members. Ask those in your circle to pay particular attention to your child, and to let you know if they see them struggling. Then it’s up to you, as the parent, to guide them through the changes with love, support and positive reinforcement. Those are the fundamental building blocks of all happy families, no matter how much they grow and change as the years go by.