A 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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