How to Help Children Adjust to the Arrival of a New Sibling

Family in the maternity hospital with newbornA happy event though it is, integrating a new baby into the family is a huge transition. It’s a huge transition for Mom and Dad, of course, but it’s also a huge transition for older children in the family.

The dynamic of the whole family changes when a new baby arrives. The arrival of a new baby can be one of the most traumatic events in a child’s life. It is a significant transition that must be handled with compassion and empathy, lest you risk harming his or her self-worth and sense of security. The integration of a new baby into the family can create an emotional crisis for children. Therefore, children need the assurance of their parents’ love more than ever.

It is completely normal for children to experience jealousy once a new baby arrives, even if the children are excited about having a new baby in the house. The reality is that children will have to adjust to the shift in the amount of attention they receive from their parents. Children may experience this shift as a loss that they grieve. How children adjust to a new baby depends on their temperament and the ease of the transition of integrating the new baby into the family. The goal for parents is to help children manage their jealousy so that, sooner rather than later, love for the new baby can take over.

The integration of a new baby tends to be most difficult for children 18 months to three years. Children younger than that aren’t as aware, and children older than that typically have other things distracting them. When the time comes for the baby to arrive, parents need to ensure that children do not feel abandoned. Having Mommy go away to the hospital can be traumatic if the children are on the younger side and don’t understand why she left, which may make it more difficult to accept the new addition to the family once the baby is brought home.

It is best to start preparing children for the new arrival before the baby even arrives. The goal is to help children feel connected to the baby and to become enthusiastic about its arrival.

Strategies for Helping Children Embrace a New Sibling

The following are some strategies parents can use to help children adjust to a new sibling:

  • Be willing to validate children’s unhappy feelings. Acknowledge the frustration children may feel when a new baby arrives. By acknowledging the challenging parts, children won’t feel the need to bury or suppress their feelings, which is often at the root of misbehavior.
  • Focus on what hasn’t changed. Even if they’re exhausted, parents should try to sustain whatever rituals have been established with their children.
  • Don’t pressure children into “loving” their new sibling or being a “good big brother/sister.” If children are given time to adjust, they will have more room to bond naturally.
  • Offer children the chance to be alone with each parent. One-on-one time with one parent may make less attention from the other more tolerable and remind children that they are still special.
  • Create opportunities for children to be recognized. Tell others within earshot how helpful it is when they carry the diaper bag or get the baby powder. Also, remind children how lucky the baby is to have them for an older sibling.
  • Recruit help. Enlist the help of a person the child likes or family members to spend time with the children and offer extra time and attention.
  • When children are emotionally charged, process big feelings. Regardless of the reason they are upset, the opportunity to express their feelings (crying, yelling, etc.) and be comforted by a parent will help them adjust.

Patiently allowing the time needed for children to adjust to the arrival of a new baby, and providing love and emotional support of their feelings, will help children to recognize that their feelings are accepted and understood. As a result, children may be more likely to accept the arrival of a new sibling and view it as a joyful event.

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  • Leave a Comment
  • Perry

    July 28th, 2015 at 7:35 AM

    aaahhh my sister is going through this right now- I will definitely have to get her to read!

  • cadence

    July 28th, 2015 at 5:26 PM

    There was a 10 year age difference between me and my younger sister so to say that I felt ignored when she came along is a pretty big understatement. I think that my parents just felt like I was old enough to take care of myself so there was not a reason to baby me anymore when there was actually another baby, a real baby in the house.

  • Sarah A

    July 29th, 2015 at 8:00 AM

    I don’t think that parents really mean to ignore one child over another but the kids who are already there do have to be prepared that this is going to be a new experience for everyone and that we will all be learning along the way. It doesn’t mean that you love them any less, but it will mean that there are going to be some changes in the house that everyone will have to adjust and become accustomed to.

  • Langston

    July 30th, 2015 at 7:58 AM

    Talk to your children and let them be a part of the experience. Do not exclude then. Tell them what a wonderful big brother or sister that they will be. Prepare them for the different things that will be going on at home. Ask for their help and most of the time they will be happy to be such a good helper at home. This is going to be something totally new for them too so try not to lose your temper. Everyone get enough sleep and that will make everyone feel better. Easier said than done but ask for help from others when you need it, and I think that everyone in the family will appreciate the extra hands.

  • Lily

    July 31st, 2015 at 1:13 PM

    Most of the time it will only take a few weeks to help them adjust to the changes but it is always good if you can start helping them ahead of time so that it isn’t some huge surprise when the new baby comes home. I think that any of us would have a hard time if we felt like our place in the family was being usurped and without being able to really talk about how they feel I am sure that this is part of how young children can feel when they have a new sibling in the home. Just be patient and be kind and work with them, they will eventually become used to there being another member of the family around.

  • Jessie

    April 14th, 2019 at 7:56 AM

    While there are undoubtedly great tips in this article, as a psychologist I find it unsettling that this column describes the arrival of a new sibling as a “traumatic event,” with a link to an article on PTSD. A new baby is not a trauma and will not in and of itself “traumatize” a child. I am concerned about pathologizing a natural emotional reaction to a perfectly common family adjustment. Parents have enough anxiety as it is without this type of language.

  • Lana

    November 16th, 2020 at 12:09 PM

    I don’t think that parents really mean to ignore one child over another but the kids who are already there do have to be prepared that this is going to be a new experience for everyone and that we will all be learning along the way. It doesn’t mean that you love them any less, but it will mean that there are going to be some changes in the house that everyone will have to adjust and become accustomed to.

  • Levi

    October 15th, 2021 at 7:52 AM

    Thanks for informing me that I should give my child room to adjust to bond naturally with their new sibling. I am currently pregnant with my second child, and I am worried that my firstborn son will feel jealous of his new sibling. He has been showing signs of jealousy now. I am afraid it will get worse once I give birth. I appreciate all your tips and will try to find books that will validate my son’s feelings. realwithwords/favorite-brother

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