Helping Your Young Child Adjust to a New Baby

As excited as you may be to have a new baby, your first child may not share your happiness. From the older child’s perspective, all the “fuss” created by a baby’s arrival in the household may be difficult to deal with and can cause ambivalent feelings towards the new baby.

The early days of sibling relationships are greatly influenced by what you say and how you act. Here are some positive steps you can take to keep your first child from wanting to send the new baby back.

  • Let your preschooler know that crying, dirtying diapers, and needing lots of attention is what all babies do—not just this particular baby you brought home. Acknowledge that babies can sometimes be hard work and that they need special attention, just as your older child needs—and gets—special attention in activities the baby isn’t even interested in yet, such as going to the playground.
  • Don’t abandon your first child’s cherished routines. If you have always read a bedtime story, continue to do so. Breaking traditions now will make it seem as if the baby stole them.
  • Let your older child know that she can express, but not act on, negative feelings. It’s not wrong for her to wish the baby would stop crying, but it would be wrong for her to try to punish the baby. Acknowledge negative feelings and be empathetic to how hard it is for your older child to adjust to all the changes in environment and routine that a new baby brings.
  • Point out times when your older child is having a positive effect on the baby. If the older child is touching the baby’s feet and the baby laughs, tell him that this is a sign of how much the baby appreciates the fun of having an older brother. You can reinforce the older child’s feeling of being appreciated by letting him overhear you telling someone else about how he made the baby laugh.
  • Confronted with stressful situations, some children may display regressive behavior, such as toileting accidents. Try to deal with these regressive behaviors patiently, and pay special attention to more grown-up behavior, such as getting dressed without help.

The arrival of a second child does bring additional time pressures to family life. Time is finite, but love is not. Make it obvious that there is plenty of love and affection to go around. The new child is not taking any love away from the first child, but adding to the pool.

Last updated August 8, 2015