Tips for Helping Kids Adjust to a New Baby

You just brought home a new little bundle of joy but suddenly your older child is exhibiting all kinds of out-of-character behavior. Here are a few tips to consider when introducing a new child into the family.

By Momentous Institute | Jul 06, 2021
Bringing Home Baby 01

You just brought home a new little bundle of joy. You’ve prepared yourself for sleepless nights and diaper changes. But it’s not just the baby who needs all your attention. Suddenly your older child is exhibiting all kinds of out-of-character behavior. You don’t know who is crying more – your new baby or your toddler (or you)? Bringing a new baby home can be challenging, not just for parents, but for siblings as well. Here are a few tips to consider when introducing a new child into the family.

First, give the child as much context as possible beforehand. Depending on the child’s age and ability to understand, try telling the child about what it will be like to have a new baby in the home. Show him where the baby will sleep, what changing a diaper is like, and how the baby will be fed. Explain that babies cry to communicate that they’re hungry or need a diaper change, and that babies sleep a lot. As much as you can front-load information, the better prepared they’ll be when the time comes. You can say, “Remember? I told you that babies cry! I wonder if he’s hungry or needs his diaper changed. Let’s check.”

One note – some parents explain the new baby with phrases such as, “We didn’t want you to be alone, so we decided to give you a baby sister!” or, “We love you so much, so that’s why we wanted to bring another baby into the family.” While well-meaning, these phrases can be confusing to kids, or worse, make them feel anxious or resentful. Some kids might think, “I liked being alone!” or, “But you didn’t even ask me if that’s what I wanted!” It’s best to share the facts of the new sibling and avoid trying to “sell” it as something the child wants.  

Ask the child how they’re feeling about the new baby. Some kids may share that they’re excited, nervous, sad, scared, happy or any other number of feelings. And these feelings may change! They may be excited beforehand, but quickly change their mind to annoyed or upset after the new baby arrives (or the other way around). Their feelings will likely change in the first days, weeks and months as they settle into the new routine. Check in and check in again. Then acknowledge and honor their feelings by saying things like, “It sounds like you’re partly excited and partly nervous. Do I have that right?”

Honor their feelings. If a child tells you how they’re feeling, great. More often, they’ll show you. You can honor their feelings by acknowledging what you’re seeing and validating it. For example, you might say, “I know it is frustrating that I can’t read with you right now because I’m feeding the baby.” Or, “I know it’s hard when I ask you to be quiet while the baby is sleeping.”

Don’t blame the baby. Making the baby at fault for changes and challenges that arise can cause the older sibling to view the baby negatively and can foster resentment. Rather than saying, “We can’t go to the park now because the baby is sleeping”, consider, “Dad will take you to the park right after he gets home.”

Include the older sibling. Allow the older sibling to play an important role of helper and supporter by helping change diapers or hold bottles or sing to the baby during tummy time. Praising the child for being gentle with the baby or being a great big brother/sister helps them feel a sense of pride and connection to the baby.

Don’t make EVERYTHING about the baby. At the same time, it’s very important for kids to continue to have a relationship outside of the new baby. Find a minute or two to play cars or dolls, read a book or cuddle. Talk about something other than the baby. Have one parent take care of the baby and let the other sneak out for a few minutes to take a walk around the block or go to the park without the baby in tow. Praise the child for things other than their role as big sibling, like, “You’re so special to me. I love spending time with you.”

Encourage visitors to pay attention to big sibling first. In the first few days/weeks of having a new baby, you may have lots of visitors dropping by. Talk to them in advance and ask them to first acknowledge the older child before holding the new baby. The new baby won’t know, but the big sibling will. When visitors swing by, spending the first couple minutes asking big sibling questions (not all about the baby!) will help them feel seen and important.

Lastly, know that even with all these tips, this will still be a transition for your child. It’s a major life change for them! The good news is that it is practice for helping them manage changes throughout their life. Giving them all the tools to make it as smooth as possible, and then supporting them through it when it’s hard, is helping build their capacity for other changes that will come their way. The best environment for learning this skill is in a home with safe, supportive adults. So try your best, and know that even when you mess up (which you will, because you’re human, and you’re taking care of a new baby), that through this transition, they’re gaining valuable life lessons.