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Bringing Home A New Baby: 4 Ways To Help Your Oldest Child Cope

Updated: Apr 16

It’s always been just you and your oldest child together. They’ve had your full attention and all of the learning and growing together. Sometimes you may even wonder if your heart can love the new baby as much as your heart loves this child.

You worry when the new baby gets here, how will your oldest child handle it? You may worry your firstborn will get aggressive with the new baby, be jealous of all the love and attention the new baby is receiving, or withdraw from you. You may also worry—how will you balance it all?

You want to be that supermom who can give both the baby and her oldest her attention, for your older child to become an amazing older sibling, and for everyone to get along well–but how?

Have no fear, these below tried and true strategies will help your child adjust from an only child to having a sibling and you be able to keep your peace of mind.

1: Set Aside Special Time Pre and Post baby To Help Your Oldest Child Cope

Did you know that there is a magic relationship ratio? For every negative interaction, we should strive to have 5 positive interactions, even if they are minor ones. Negative interactions can be small, such as turning away when your child wants to show you something, yelling at your child, or putting them in timeout. To help your child cope with some of the changes in your household, it is important to add to their relationship bank as much as possible and continue to add to it. One important way can be quality time.

Before the new baby arrives, set aside 5-10 minutes of special time every day at a set place in your routine. This could be after coming home from school, before or after dinner, before a bath, or at any point that works in your routine. Keep this at a set place so that your child knows it is coming and can count on you to give them special time. This will give your child positive attention and continue their warm relationship with you.

After the baby, work to get this same 5-10 minutes in a day at a set time in the routine. This will allow your child to adapt to the amount of time the baby is getting as they know they will get their special time with you and then your child won’t attention-seek as much during the day. If you want help in implementing positive special time and working on your child’s attention-seeking behaviors, especially before the baby arrives, Parent Child Interaction Therapy or PCIT may be right for you.

Another great way to give your child the one-on-one attention they may need would be to do date nights with just you and your child. Pick a place they like to go and take them there, such as Chuck E Cheese, a restaurant, a playground, wherever it is that they would enjoy and have a positive experience. Try to avoid anywhere that may cause behavioral challenges as this experience should be about continuing your positive relationship with them and adding to the relationship bank.

2: Prepare Your Firstborn For The New Baby

A great way to interest your child in the baby is to educate them about babies. This could come from showing old pictures and videos of your child as a baby, giving them a baby doll to take care of or to practice with, reading books on having a new baby sibling or watching television shows about having a new sibling.

To Get Your Oldest Ready For The New Baby:

  • Show your child pictures of them as a newborn. Talk to them about soft spots, floppy necks, and how the belly button has an umbilical stump attached to it for a few weeks.

  • Show them videos of themselves as a baby and explain that babies mostly eat, sleep, use the bathroom, and cry.

  • Do some practice runs with a baby doll. Have your child practice if the baby is crying getting you wipes, a diaper, or a pacifier. Have them practice their funny faces to distract their new sibling or their gentle touches. You can also give your child a doll to take care of that will help them prepare for the baby and to take care of when you have the baby.

  • Read them books about having a new baby sibling.

  • Show television shows about having a new sibling

3: Use More Labeled Praises Of Behavior

This is a great time to amp up your labeled praises. A lot of parents think saying “good job” or “nice work” is enough for their children. However, what are they doing that is good? What makes it nice work? This praise can ring hollow to children and it doesn’t let them know what you actually like. For example, did you like that they were coloring neatly and inside the lines or that they were sitting at the table? Did you like that they were stacking blocks quietly or that they were playing independently?

Labeled praises increase the behavior you want to see more of, so this is a great time to begin using them frequently. This may also be a time to decide what behaviors you want to see more of before you have their sibling, and after. Maybe it is independent play, sharing, listening to directions, or playing quietly. Maybe you want to see them be a good big sibling by helping mom around the house, or using safe touch with the child. Now is a great time to examine how you are praising your child.

When you have the new baby, be sure to praise the child in front of others where the child can hear it. This is a great time to talk about what a great big sibling they are to grandma, grandpa, or whoever will listen. This will allow them to feel more confident and have higher self-esteem.

For more information on praise and children, click here.

4: Create A Calm Alone Time Space For Them

Sometimes your oldest child may need a break from their sibling and that’s okay. A great way to prepare your oldest for the baby would be to make a quiet space where they can go to be alone or when emotions are running high and they need a break. This could be a teepee, a tent, a small closet with a light, a bookcased in area, or any sort of small space where they can enjoy the quiet.

In this space could be an Alexa or quiet noise machine, some calming books or toys. Some parents make calm-down boxes for their kids to use in these areas.

Calm down boxes can include:

  • Fidget toys

  • Bubbles

  • Etch A Sketch

  • Calming books

  • Markers that only color on certain paper, not any other surface

  • Sensory jars

Having a new baby and a larger family can be great. It can lead to so much more love, laughter, and fuller hearts. Nothing can compare to watching your older child take on a loving role in your family. It can also lead to aggression with siblings, increased attention-seeking habits, and anxiety or depression in moms. If you are looking for help settling your child into having a new sibling and want it to go well PCIT or Parent Child Interaction Therapy may be a good fit for you.

If you are looking for family therapy, Mary Willoughby (Romm) Prentiss is a licensed professional counselor in the state of Virginia who provides online therapy for Willow Tree Healing Center. She enjoys transforming the lives of women, college students, kids, tweens/teens, and families through providing communication strategies, coping skills that work, allowing a safe space to be heard, and actively working towards helping you with your challenges. She is certified in Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (ages 2-7) and Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,counsels substance abuse in teens and adults, and practices Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy.

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