Helping children adjust to the arrival of a new sibling

By Abby Betz, LCSW

Advice from Youth First

I hear congrats are in order!

If you are currently expecting a baby or recently had a baby, you are most likely still experiencing the joys of welcoming a new child to your life. Although bringing home a new baby is a joyous time for all, it can also be a challenging time for you as parents, and for your other children. Adding another child is a big transition for your family. The dynamic of the entire family changes when a new baby arrives. The arrival of a new baby can be an exciting time for children, but introducing a new baby can also cause stress and be traumatic for some kids.

For some children, the integration of a new baby into the family can trigger some big feelings and create an emotional crisis. The transition to more siblings must be handled with compassion and empathy to preserve the older children’s sense of security and self-worth. It is key for parents to provide reassurance and love to all their children.

It is completely normal for children to feel jealous toward a new baby, even if the older siblings are excited about the arrival of a new baby in the house. Children are being asked to adjust to the shift in the amount of attention they receive from parents, and this may also trigger feelings of grief or loss. Older siblings are no longer the centers of mom or dad’s attention and affection, and these feelings can be difficult for some children to navigate. It is important to address any feelings of abandonment a child may feel by letting them be part of the process. For example, it would be beneficial to explain to young children that Mommy will be away at the hospital and why, so it is easier for them to accept when it is time for the baby to come home.

It is best to start preparing children for the new arrival before the baby arrives. The goal is to help children feel a sense of connection with the baby and to become enthusiastic about the arrival. Some strategies that may be helpful include validating a child’s feelings, regardless of whether they are feeling happy or unhappy about a new baby. By acknowledging frustration, children won’t feel the need to suppress their feelings, which can cause problematic behaviors.

Offering children opportunities to have one-on-one time with each parent is vital for each child to feel special and seen as a valued member of the family. Focusing on what things have not changed within the family and maintaining traditions that have already been established can help a child’s sense of belonging. Being willing to validate siblings’ unhappy feelings, and helping to process through these feelings, will facilitate the transition and assist with adjusting to a new baby. Enlisting help from other family members or friends who have special bonds with your children can also help by offering extra time and attention. Moreover, if your child does not automatically bond with the new baby, it is important not to pressure the child into a relationship; let this happen organically. By doing so, the relationship that is fostered between your child and the new sibling will be one of genuine love.

Abby Betz, LCSW, serves as Youth First social worker at Holy Trinity Catholic School in Jasper.