Preparing Siblings

Older Brothers and Sisters

Helping siblings adjust to a new baby is part of the process of creating your new family. Include your older children in as much of your pregnancy as you can. Let them help you prepare for your baby. Read books together about new babies. Visit friends who have new babies. Let them feel your baby kick. Use simple pictures to show them how your baby is growing, and talk about how special it is to be a new brother or sister. The more they feel a part of the pregnancy, the less sibling rivalry is created.

When You Go to the Hospital

  • Leave a picture of yourself with older children.
  • Leave a tape of your voice reading a favorite story.
  • Call them on the phone.
  • Leave a card or note written by you.
  • Have them visit you.
  • Don't expect perfect behavior when your older children come to visit - they've missed you, and they may not immediately bond with your baby.
  • Mark the special occasion of becoming a brother or sister with a small treat or special gift.

When You Get Back Home

  • Spend dedicated "just-you-and-me" time with each child every day, even if it's only a few minutes.
  • Tell older children stories about when they were babies.
  • Get out your older child's baby book and look through it together.
  • Give older children extra attention, cuddles, praise and love.
  • Be patient if older children wet the bed, suck their thumbs and "try on" baby behavior for a while.

Sibling Rivalry Toward a Newborn

What is sibling rivalry?

Sibling rivalry refers to the natural jealousy of children toward a new brother or sister. Older siblings can feel jealous when the baby arrives until they are 4 or 5 years old and even older. Not surprisingly, most children prefer to be the only child at this age. Basically, they don't want to share your time and affection. The arrival of a new baby is especially stressful for the firstborn and for siblings less than 3 years old. The jealousy arises because the older sibling sees the newcomer receiving all the attention, visitors, gifts, and special handling. They often feel left out and then may start to act out.

The most common symptom of sibling rivalry is lots of demands for attention. For example, the older child wants to be held and carried, especially when the mother is busy with the newborn. Other symptoms include acting like a baby again, such as thumb-sucking, wetting, or soiling. Aggressive behavior - for example, handling the baby roughly - can also occur. All of these symptoms are normal. While some can be prevented, the remainder can be improved within a few months.

Below are ways you can help prevent sibling rivalry:

During Pregnancy

  • Prepare the sibling for the newcomer. Talk about the pregnancy. Let your child feel your baby's movements.
  • Try to find a hospital that provides sibling classes where children can learn about babies and about sharing their parents with a new brother or sister.
  • Try to give your child a chance to be around a new baby so that he has a better idea of what to expect.
  • Encourage your child to help you prepare the baby's room.
  • Move your child to a different room or new bed several months before the baby's birth. If she will be enrolling in a play group or nursery school, start it well in advance of the birth.
  • Praise your child for mature behavior, such as talking, using the toilet, feeding or dressing herself, and playing games.
  • Don't make any demands for new skills (such as toilet training) during the months just preceding the delivery. Even if your child appears ready, postpone these changes until your child has made a good adjustment to the new baby.
  • Tell your child where she'll go and who will care for her when you go to the hospital if she won't be home with her father.
  • Read books together about what happens during pregnancy and after the baby is born.
  • Look through family photographs and talk about your child's first year of life.

In the Hospital

  • Call your older child daily from the hospital.
  • Try to have your older child visit you and the baby in the hospital. Many hospitals will allow this.
  • If your older child can't visit you, send her a picture of the new baby.
  • Encourage Dad to take your youngster on some special outings at this time (for example, to the park, zoo, museum, or fire station).

Coming Home

  • When you enter your home, spend your first moments with the older sibling. Have someone else carry the new baby into the house.
  • Give the sibling a gift "from the new baby."
  • Ask visitors to give extra notice to the older child. Have your older child unwrap the baby's gifts.
  • From the beginning, refer to your newborn as "our baby." And your sister or brother being part of the family.

The First Months at Home

  • Give your older child the extra attention he needs. Help him feel more important. Try to give him at least 30 minutes a day of exclusive, uninterrupted time. Hire a baby sitter to care for the baby and take your older child outside or look through his baby album with him. Make sure that the father and relatives spend extra time with him during the first month. Give him lots of physical affection throughout the day.
  • When you are busy attending to the baby, try to include your older child by talking with him. When you are nursing or bottle-feeding the baby, read a story, play a game, or do a puzzle with your older child.
  • Encourage your older child to touch and play with the new baby in your presence. Allow him to hold the baby while sitting in a chair with side-arms. Avoid such warnings as "Don't touch the baby." Newborns are not fragile and it is important to show your trust. However, you can't allow the sibling to carry the baby until he reaches school age.
  • Enlist your older child as a helper. Encourage him to help with baths, dry the baby, get a clean diaper, or find toys or a pacifier. At other times encourage him to feed or bathe a doll when you are feeding or bathing the baby. Emphasize how much the baby likes the older sibling. Make comments such as "Look how happy she gets when you play with her," or "You can always make her laugh."
  • Don't ask the older siblings to be quiet for the baby. Newborns can sleep fine without the house being perfectly quiet. Asking your older child to do this may cause him or her to resent the baby.
  • Accept baby-like behavior, such as thumb-sucking or clinging, as something your child needs to do temporarily. Do not criticize him.
  • Explain that you do not have the strength to carry two people, but that when you sit, both baby and sibling can 'cuddle' and get time with mom.
  • When your child behaves aggressively, stop him right away. Tell him, "We never hurt babies." Send your child to "time-out" for a few minutes. Don't spank your child or slap his hand at these times. If you hit him, he will eventually try to do the same to the baby as revenge. For the next few weeks don't leave the two of them alone.
  • If your child is old enough, encourage him to talk about his mixed feelings about the new arrival. Suggest an alternative behavior: "When you're upset with the baby, come to me for a big hug."