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Published on July 27, 2017

children meeting new sibling

Big Sisters and Brothers Can Struggle When New Babies Comes Home

Sometimes big brothers and sisters do not share the overwhelming joy that moms and dads feel as their families grow. Sibling rivalry is natural – but manageable, too.

Deb Vigness, RN, the Childbirth Education Coordinator with Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center, hosts a number of educational events for older siblings, to help them with the changes in the household and to help them see their important role with a new little brother or sister.

“We host some sessions, mostly with kids ages 2-8 who are preparing for when baby comes home,” she said. “We have them hold babies – just dolls – and learn about feeding, changing and safety. We also stress that babies really cannot do anything for themselves, and that they need their older brothers and sisters for help.”

Vigness said when kids see that they are “big” and capable of all the things they can do – that babies cannot – it sometimes can help with the change at home.

“Most little kids adjust and forget about what it was like when it was just them at home,” said Vigness. “But every child and every family is different. For some older siblings, it takes a while.”

That process varies based on the age difference between newborn and “big” brother or sister, too, she said.

“There’s not as much jealousy with, for example, a 2-year-old as they don’t have the concept of losing out on parent’s attention in their minds,” she added. “Kids who were the ‘star of the show’ for four or five years may have a bit more of a ‘Send baby back’ mentality, but you can work through it.”

The best thing for parents can be a hard thing for parents: try not to over-react to the older children’s adjustments. Sometimes those adjustments can be regressive behaviors, such as seeking a pacifier or wetting the bed. Other behaviors, such as acting out or resenting the newborn also can happen.

“Mom and dad can take actions to make older kids feel included, like reading a book during a feeding time, or having older kids help out with changing or other duties that come with babies,” Vigness said. “Making steps to show that all the kids are part of one family really help.”

Vigness and her team recommend the following ideas for the parents of a new baby who has older siblings:

  • Make changes to older siblings’ routines early. If the older child is changing beds or rooms, make that happen sooner to allow them time to adjust before baby comes home.
  • If your older child is approaching toilet training, realize they may regress some when baby first arrives. It will go away in time – be patient and kind.
  • Share stories with the older child about how it was before he or she came home, and encourage him or her to be involved in planning things out for the new member of the family.
  • Negative reactions or appeals for attention from older siblings of new babies are normal, and they usually go away. But remember, safety is priority, so do not rely on a young siblings’ own control over emotions – rather watch over all children who are so young.
  • Make a special time to spend with older children, even if it’s only a few minutes. Take a walk, read a favorite book – little things can remind the “big sisters and brothers” of your family you love them as much as the newest member.

Avera Childbirth Educators and Certified Family Life Educators can offer additional help for growing families.

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