Tips for Sibling Adjustment

The arrival of a new sibling can be a joyous occasion for a young child. But it is not without its challenges, since some children would prefer that they be the apple of Mom's (or Dad's) eye.

The hardest part for children to understand is not necessarily that there's a new baby coming but rather why: “Why do you need to have another baby, Mommy? Aren't I good enough for you?” “Why do I have to share my room with the baby?” “Why do I have to give the baby my old clothes and toys?”

The pregnancy itself may frighten the child, especially if you're experiencing morning sickness or other less-than-desirable side effects. But for most children, the waiting is the hardest part. Even the most excited siblings-to-be will find the nine-month wait to be painfully slow.

Ways to Get Siblings Involved

There are several ways you can get your child or children more involved in the birthing process. One way is to make the pregnancy seem real from the start. Buy or borrow books on the development of a new baby; some are geared for children under the age of 10; others can be of interest to the whole family. Use these books at story time to explain to your child the intricate process of growing a baby.

Be sure to relate the pictures the child is seeing in the books to his or her own development; nothing helps a sibling-to-be understand the process more than the story of his or her own birth.

You should end each conversation about the baby with, “Do you have any questions or anything more you'd like to know about the baby?” This gives your child the opportunity to air any fears or concerns in a quiet, giving atmosphere.

Essential

Allow your child some hands-on experience feeling the baby move. Also, if you can, take your child with you to the doctor's office. Hearing the baby's heartbeat and seeing an ultrasound are good ways to make the experience more real to your child. If your child can't attend an ultrasound for some reason, ask the doctor for a good picture to take home with you.

Involve Your Child in Preparing the Nest

Take your child with you to buy baby clothes, diaper bags, strollers, and crib sheets. Ask whether he likes a particular décor for the baby's room and if there's anything he would like to donate to the baby. It's better to have the child feel involved in the process and to feel as though he has a choice in what to give baby (as opposed to your taking toys away or announcing that the siblings will have to share something).

If your child does need to give up a crib or a room, make these arrangements as early as you can so that the sibling can adjust to the change. You might give an older child the bedroom furniture that had been your own as a child; he may be very touched by the special nature of having something that was once Mommy's, as well as by the idea of getting “big-girl” or “big-boy” furniture.

Bring Out Your Child's Baby Scrapbook

Your child may wish to relive babyhood for a little while; don't be worried about this or show disapproval, since it is likely to be a quick phase your child is passing through. If your child wants to play with baby toys, it's okay. Maybe you could encourage him to think of ways to play with or teach the baby with these toys.

Explain What Will Happen at the Hospital

Many hospitals have classes for siblings; see if you can get into one anytime from mid-pregnancy on. Go over the “action plan” with your child; explain where he or she will be taken while you are giving birth. Let your child know when he or she can come to the hospital to see the baby, and be honest about what will happen when you bring the baby home from the hospital. Explain that you will be tired and that at first the baby will mostly sleep, eat, and cry. The child needs to know that the new baby will require lots of care and attention and that he will be a helper more than a playmate in the beginning.

Pack a Special Present in Your Hospital Bag

Give your child a special gift when presenting the new baby. Also, when guests come for the ceremonial “viewing of the baby,” you might ask them to pay special attention to the new big brother or sister. Kids feel very left out when the baby is getting all of the attention — and the presents. Even a small token can go a long way in making the sibling feel more comfortable.

Honor Your Child's Feelings, Even If They're Negative

Alert

Keep in mind that your child has a lot for his young mind to deal with; this thought will help you keep a good perspective through your family transition. Offer your child as much individual attention as possible, and remember that you can never say, “I love you” often enough.

If a sibling is feeling negative about the baby, listen to his feelings in a nonjudgmental way. Try to work through these feelings by addressing the child's fears; most often, the child is afraid you won't love him as much as you used to. If the child begins acting out the negative feelings (by hitting or abusing the baby), seek professional help and limit contact between the two until a resolution becomes clear.

Set and Keep a “Special” Time Together

Create activities that you can do together while baby is napping or otherwise occupied. If there were special things that the two of you used to do, try and preserve as many as you can to help the child feel a sense of security and continuity.

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