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New Baby Sibling: What's a Parent to Do?

by Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D.

Introduction

Depending on your position in the family - parent or child- the birth of a new baby can bring different feelings. For the parents it no doubt brings joy if not exhaustion. For the new sibling, it can bring happiness and jealousy. Parents may need to keep in mind the siblings point of view - for every friend you make you make an enemy. But there are things parents can do to help ease the transition and help everyone live happily ever after.

Where does sibling rivalry come from?

All children need and crave the love and attention of their parents. When a sibling enters the picture, one's sense of security and exclusivity is jeopardized. Out of necessity, parents must divide their time and attention among more than one child. This results in feelings of jealousy and anger, and to the illogical fears of being replaced and abandoned. These feelings can exist simultaneously with affection for the sibling and true camaraderie. Siblings who seemed locked in constant battle as youngsters can grow to be the best of friends, mentors, teachers, role models, and confidantes for their sibling mates.

What can parents do?

The following are some strategies for parents to use to ease the introduction of a new sibling and to minimize the turmoil of the ongoing sibling relationship.

  • Remember your feelings about your own sibling.
  • Don't compare kids.
  • Review baby pictures of the older child to put things in perspective and remind/point out that in fact he/she was cared for in just the same way when he/she was born.
  • If possible, avoid big changes in family life, such as moving or changing caregivers, around the birth of a new baby - such events can be even more overwhelming. It can also cause the sibling to associate a negative experience or change with the new baby.
  • Take this opportunity to discuss the birds and the bees - use books, experts at the hospital etc.
  • Look for opportunities in which the sibling can be a participant rather than a competitor in the birth.
  • Monitor the gift giving, suggest that friends and family bring the baby and sibling(s) presents or even have people give time - take the sibling for a separate outing.

For the parent to be

  • Be prepared. But keep in mind the age of the child. For example, 9 months is a very long time in the life of a 4-year-old. Try postponing the discussion until mother is showing - there will be plenty of time to prepare, use a calendar to mark the coming delivery, or discuss the birth in connection to an established point in time such as in the summer, when school is over, around Christmas.
  • Keep everyone involved according to interest - bring the soon to be sibling with you to doctor visits, show pictures of a sonogram.
  • Be concrete about life with a new infant - babies aren't born playmates, they don't walk, talk, play ball - they cry, sleep, eat for quite some time.
  • Check with your hospital to see if they have a sibling preparation program.
  • Don't go overboard. The birth of a new baby is a momentous occasion but children can be bored by constant talk and planning. The siblings to be would prefer their parents were interested in the current events in their lives.

For the parent with a young sibing

  • Imitation and role-playing can help the sibling express feelings and adjust to the new status. So introducing a baby doll when you are pregnant and/or once the new baby is home can increase acceptance and provide an acceptable outlet.
  • The older child may regress and exhibit more "babyish" behavior - don't criticize or admonish the child to grow up. Instead, accept it and comment that it may be pleasurable to feel like a baby, indulge the behavior within reason. You may want to discuss the difference between the oldster and new born to reinforce the sibling's advanced abilities.
  • Pick tasks the sibling can help with according to their age and ability - get a diaper, read a story while you hold the baby.
  • Plan special individualized time with the sibling separate from the baby, even if it's just story time or a ride in the car - point out that it's time set aside just for the older child.
  • Don't despair if the sibling seems resentful or even disinterested - it's hard to share time and attention. But blood is thicker than water and often the siblings who fought it out in the backyard turn to their siblings most often when older - a shared history is a strong bond.

About the Author

Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist specializing in bereavement issues.