Blend a New Baby With an Older Step Child
For a child who is used to getting all the attention, a new sibling can seem like competition. The older child may feel left out and pressured to grow up, which can create short-term and long-term problems for both siblings and parents.
As a parent, it might be challenging to give both children the amount and the type of attention they need. However, there are several ways to make all of your children feel valued.
- Involve your older children before the baby is born. You will have plenty of time from when you first know that a new baby is coming until the baby actually arrives, so use it to ease the transition. Try a few of the following ideas:
- Explain the kinds of things that will happen before, when, and after the baby is born over and over so that your child is prepared for what can be confusing times. But leave a little room for the unexpected, e.g., a baby who has to stay in the hospital for a few days or weeks.
- Avoid giving your child the idea that the baby will be "someone to play with" or "your best friend" right away - the younger your child is, the more crucial this is.<p> Make sure your child understands that for weeks the new baby will only sleep, eat, look around, poop, pee, and cry. Be especially clear about the crying, i.e., explicitly tell your child that some babies cry a lot and that this is NOT the older child's fault or responsibility.
- Get a baby doll and have your child practice taking care of the "baby."
- Allow your child to come with you to prenatal appointments to listen to the baby's heartbeat. Take them to an ultrasound appointment. If you have a good friendly OB, CNP, or midwife, see if he or she will let your child "help" in some way.
- Consider allowing your older child(ren) a say in naming the baby. This can be done by providing a list of names you wouldn't mind the baby having as a first or middle name and letting them choose the ones they really like. Ask for their input in designing and putting together the nursery. If this would work for you and your family, see if your child(ren) can attend the birth itself.
- Read stories to your child about new babies that provide realistic descriptions about how new babies act and positive models for how older siblings should behave. Stay away from books that paint an unrealistically rosy picture or that make ambivalent feelings seem unacceptable.
- Above all, keep all of this preparation brief, light-hearted and casual. Going on and on about it will bore some children and make others feel more anxious than prepared.
- Remind your child that he or she was a new baby once. Using age-appropriate and positive words, tell your child about his or her birth and what made it special. This will reassure your child of his or her importance to you, and help to make it clear why you're so excited about the new baby.
- Keep the child's daily routines as normal as possible before, during, and after the birth. Try to keep a sense of normalcy so your child will not feel like the new baby is changing everything. Especially try to avoid major upheavals such as potty-training or a new childcare situation right before or after the birth.
- Figure out positive ways for your child to interact with the baby. Your child can hold the baby (even toddlers can do this under close supervision, sitting down, with the baby on a pillow in the child's lap), sing to the new baby, try to "teach" the baby to smile, read to the new baby, and so on.
- Reward and reinforce behavior that's welcoming and positive, so that the child associates being a good sibling with having a happy parent and a happy family. For example, you can make a "Welcome Home" card with the child, spending quality time during the making and also making a big deal out of giving the card to both mother and baby.
- As much as you possibly can, ignore or overlook behavior that's unwelcoming and negative - the very last thing you want to do is to teach your older child that your precious attention and time can be obtained just as easily by pinching the baby or by saying "I hate the baby" as by offering to bring the baby a clean diaper.
- Try talking to the baby about the older child when the older child is nearby, e.g., "Baby, look what your smart big brother did, he tied his own shoes/made his own bed/found the remote for me" and "Baby, when you grow up, Big Sister can show you how to play Candyland."
- Don't *always* drop what you're doing as soon as the baby cries. Many many many times your older children will have to wait while you take care of the baby. Every once in a while, make the baby wait.
- Do fun things alone with your older child, especially if you do things with just the baby. If you're taking a mother-and-baby exercise class, for example, make a point of doing something special with your older child about equally often. This will help your child see that there's still time for just the two of you. Even a trip to the grocery story without the baby can be fun for your older child if you're not too exhausted to be nice.
- Do fun things as a family. Your child will naturally resent the baby if he or she feels the baby is preventing your family from doing fun things together. Show your child that the new baby is part of the family - this is important because young children sometimes do not understand that the baby is here to stay - by planning family outings where you can bring the baby along to share in the fun.
- Get into the habit of referring to the baby as "our baby" rather than "my baby" or "the baby." Toddlers are especially fond of the idea of ownership and will like taking care of "their baby."
- The older your children are, the more they can do to help with the baby, but even very young kids can be encouraged or taught to do fun "big brother/sister" things with (or for) the baby and you.
- Let your older child get lots of positive attention for being helpful and competent and he or she will be less likely to try to get attention by being whiny, helpless, and demanding (behaviors which, after all, seem to be working great for the baby).
- Some parents find that bringing a small cot into the bedroom so that the family can all sleep together when the baby gets home helps foster a positive feeling about the whole event.
- When your child is feeling upset or left out, talk to them about their feelings ("you feel sad that we had to skip the park today" or "you feel mad that the baby spit up on your doll") and ask what you can do to help.
- Often a cuddle and a chat are all it takes to help your older child feel better (temporarily) and less conflicted about the new baby.
- Remind your tactless or forgetful relatives and friends to pay some attention to the older child FIRST when they come to visit - and this does NOT mean asking "What do you think about your new brother?" or "How do you like being the big sister?" Ignoring the baby completely for the first fifteen minutes won't hurt the baby a bit but can do wonders for the older child's self-confidence. Avoid giving the impression that "all you can talk about" is the new baby.
- Try to avoid negative attention when it comes to your child trying to help with the baby. Continual anxious hovering and "constructive" criticism will encourage distance from the new sibling, not to mention resentment.
- The new baby will make your older child seem dramatically more competent, but remember to keep your expectations age-appropriate. Ask yourself, "Would I be expecting that my child could share/wait/help in this way if he or she was still an only child?"
- Never make helping with the new baby into a chore. If your child wants to help with diaper changes, that's great. But try never to make the baby seem like extra work.
- Many children think a newborn sibling is absolutely delightful but have real trouble adjusting when the baby is older. Save some of your patience - and sympathy - for your older child who feels resentful of the crawler who "gets into everything" and knocks over blocks, messes up games, brings playdates to an early end, etc.
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