Nurturing Sibling Bonds: Welcoming a New Baby Into the Family

June 15, 2023

Welcoming a new baby into your family is a wondrous thing, but it can bring on a range of emotions for older siblings. Parents play a big role in shaping the sibling bond. With your loving support, your older child will understand they always have a special place in your heart.

A new baby on the way is exciting. And signals a big change for your family. Your older child may be anxious, wondering, “Will you still love me?”. Parents and caregivers play a big role in preparing older children for the new arrival and shaping the sibling bonds that evolve into supportive relationships in childhood and adulthood.

With your encouragement and support, your older child can prepare for the baby’s arrival and begin to understand their new role as a big sister or big brother. You can help them to know they are not losing your love or attention and still mean the world to you. 

Recognizing Their Emotions

Your older child’s personality will influence their reaction to news of a new baby. A shy little one might worry about the change, while an outgoing child might be excited right away about being a big sister or brother. Your child’s age or stage of development might also impact how well they will be able to share your attention. For example, younger children may be confused or have a hard time adjusting because they are still very dependent on you. 

Preparing In Advance 

To minimize stress before the new baby is born, talk to your child about what to expect, including changes in your routine, sharing your attention, and the baby’s needs. They should know the baby will sleep, eat, and even cry lots of the time. They won’t be a playmate right from the start1.

Share time with them talking about how they can help welcome the new baby and the role they will have as an older sibling. Address their questions and concerns honestly, and discuss how they can help welcome the baby, such as selecting clothes or singing lullabies. Encourage their involvement and make them feel valued and important in the new family dynamic. 

Read books and tell stories about welcoming the new baby (PBS has a great collection of books for kids of different ages about welcoming babies into the family!). And most importantly, make sure you give them lots of time and attention so they know how important they are to you. Simple gestures like hugs, saying "I love you," and spending quality one-on-one time can go a long way in reassuring them that their place in your heart is secure.

Once the Baby Arrives, Consider These Tips2:

  • Make the introduction special. Celebrate the arrival of the new baby by having your older sibling create a card to welcome them and exchange gifts between the siblings. Prepare “big sister” or “big brother” gifts or experiences for your older child that show them how important that role is. 
  • Quality time and attention. Encourage visitors and family members to pay special attention to your older child, and not just focus on the baby. Carve out some time to spend one-on-one with your older child. This helps to make them feel special and calm them in the midst of lots of change. 
  • Acknowledge feelings and safety. Create a safe space for your child to talk about their feelings about the baby. Listen carefully and let them know you understand how they are feeling, even if the feelings are negative. Teach your child how to touch and handle the baby gently and safely. 
  • Respect personal space. Make sure older children have their own special spaces and belongings that they do not need to share with the baby. 
  • Encourage helper roles. If your child enjoys being a helper, give them special (and age-appropriate) tasks to help with the baby. They could help push the stroller, pick out clothes, or get diapers or supplies. Then paise and acknowledge their contributions, “What a helpful sister you are!”
  • Emphasize the benefits of being older. Older children get to make their own choices about what they eat, or wear, or whether to go to the park or read a book. 

As your new baby grows, encourage your children to play together. They are learning how to interact positively and what the ground rules are for engaging with each other. Talking and listening to them can give them a chance to work out issues and resolve conflicts. As they learn these skills, give them opportunities and time to settle their differences by themselves where possible. While you may still need to help younger children work out disagreements, refrain from taking sides. When you see them working together and playing well as a team, say so! Giving praise and compliments can boost good feelings.

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References

  1. Mayo Clinic: How Older Siblings May React to a New Baby
  2. ASQ®:SE-2 Learning Activities & More, Twombly, Munson, & Pribble.

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