"When is that baby going back to the hospital?" asked the preschooler to her mother holding her new baby brother.
For you, the arrival of a new baby is a happy event. This is not necessarily true for an older child. The excitement and adjustment of a new baby in the house may naturally cause an older sibling to feel left out, abandoned, and less special - even as you reassure him that that isn't the case. Many children may be jealous or tired of all the commotion and demands to "be quiet" when the baby is asleep.
What is sibling rivalry? All children want the love and attention of their parents, and when a new child arrives, parents must divide their attention out of necessity. It's important to remember that a child's feelings of jealousy and fears of abandonment can exist simultaneously with feelings of love and pleasure about the new baby. They don't know that the new baby isn't a replacement.
Much to our dismay, this sibling love/hate often continues throughout their adult lives. Many siblings will adamantly protect each other from the real world, but all's fair at home, including name-calling, unauthorized "borrowing," and pulling hair. So how do you minimize these feelings of conflict?
- Remember your own experiences and feelings as a sibling. If you were an only child, talk to friends about their sibling relationships and remember that sibling differences are natural.
- Show your child pictures from her "babyhood" to illustrate the love and attention you gave her when she was an infant. Tell her stories about all the baby things she did.
- Every child is different. It's actually amazing that two children born of the same parents could be so different without having been switched at birth. Try to understand rather than compare and judge.
- Make special dates with your child and try to keep his or her schedule as much as possible.
- Integrate your child in the care routine of the infant. Make one of the baby's daytime naps a special time to spend with your older child. During at least two feedings a day, have your child join you to read a book or go over homework.
- Ask family and close friends to bring a small gift for the older sibling or to take her out for a special treat.
Individual Differences in Reactions
Why is it more difficult for some children to adjust to a new sibling? The University of Michigan Health System suggests many factors that can contribute to a hard adjustment:
- Research indicates that a child's personality has the greatest effect on how he or she reacts to a new baby.
- Children with the closest relationships with their mothers have shown to become more upset after the baby is born.
- Your child's developmental stage may affect how well they can share your attention. Often 2-year-olds have more trouble getting used to a new baby, because their needs for time and closeness from their parents are still great.
- Stress on the family can make your older child's adjustment harder.
Children's Books about Adjusting to a New Baby
There are many great children's books available about pregnancy, birth, adoption, and new baby siblings. Reading together will help your child realize her feelings and ideas are normal and that no matter what happens, you love her in a very special way and always will.
- My New Baby, by Annie Kubler
- We Have a Baby, by Cathryn Falwel. Simple text and illustrations.
- The New Baby, by Fred Rogers. Nice photos of families working together and sharing.
- Our New Baby, by Wendy Cheyette Lewison. Great photos and simple text for very young children.
- Baby Brother, by Tanneke Wigersma, illustrated by Nynke Mare Talsma. This is a straightforward, simple, and sweet book about what a baby in the house means.
- Julius, the Baby of the World, by Kevin Henkes. Lilly thinks all the attention given to her baby brother Julius is "disgusting!" but then she finds inside herself a fierce love and protectiveness.
- A Baby for Max, by Kathryn Lasky and Maxwell Knight. A small boy's view of his new baby sister as told in his own words with black and white photos.
- Will There be a Lap for Me? by Dorothy Corey. When a boy's mother is pregnant, her lap gets smaller and smaller. After the baby is born, she is very busy but she makes some special time for her older son.
- When the New Baby Comes, I'm Moving Out, and Nobody Asked Me if I Wanted a Baby Sister, by Martha Alexander Oliver. A big brother expresses his feelings about having a baby sister.
Preschool through school-age books:
- My New Baby and Me: A First Year Record Book for Big Brothers and Sisters, by Dian Smith.
- Arthur's Baby, by Marc Brown.
- Pinky and Rex and the New Baby, by James Howe. For older school-age children. Rex's family adopts a new baby, and she tries to be a perfect big sister, but worries that her parents will forget about her.
- Welcoming Babies, by Margy Burns Knight. This book describes many cultural traditions of welcoming babies.
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