When you introduce a new baby into the family, you want your older child (or children) to be excited, just as you are. But it’s rarely an easy transition for the older sibling, who experiences much more downside from this new relationship than we usually want to admit. You probably already know to spend daily one-on-one time with each older child, and to keep your relationship with each child positive. Your ability to take delight in your older child is the single best protection against her feeling sibling rivalry toward the baby. But did you know that there are also many things you can do to foster a sweet relationship between your children, even while one is still a baby? Here are ideas that are easy to use — even if you’re sleep deprived!
so those feelings of big love they feel on your lap get transferred toward each other. If you can get them both laughing, the oxytocin they’re releasing will also help them bond. Every relationship needs 6 positive interactions for every negative interaction, so consciously work to get positive interactions happening between your kids. Laughter and physical contact stimulate bonding hormones like oxytocin and reduce stress hormones, so every time you get your children laughing or snuggling together, you strengthen their positive bond.
Research shows that when parents discuss the baby’s feelings and needs, preschoolers interact more positively with their siblings, even a year later. “How do you think she’s feeling? What can we do to help her?”You can further humanize your youngest by using her name, instead of calling her “the baby.” This also works in reverse. Talk to the baby, in front of the older child, about the sibling’s needs and emotions. Can the baby understand? Over time, she will. Most important, this helps your older child feel that his needs are as important to you as the baby’s.
If your child is always playing on the floor while you’re always sitting in the rocker feeding the baby, your child will feel the separation. Whenever you can, sit on the floor next to your older child while he plays, wearing your infant and letting her watch. It’s even worth figuring out how to get comfortable feeding the baby on the floor, if you can do it, just so your older child doesn’t feel so left out during those incessant feedings.
Of course, sometimes the older sib’s help won’t be helpful. Is she singing too loudly into the infant’s ear? Trying to feed the baby her carrot? Take a deep breath and redirect. Suggest she stroke the baby instead of singing, or show the baby her carrot instead of putting it in his mouth. Staying calm and redirecting takes a lot of self-control for you, but it makes a tremendous difference in helping your child find constructive ways to relate to her sibling, instead of feeling pushed aside when her attempts to connect are clumsy.
Kids love to be in charge of something. How about entertaining the baby during diaper changes, or singing a song at bedtime? He’ll take the responsibility seriously, if you do.
As your infant begins to smile and laugh in response, help your older child to notice the baby’s affection. Soon they’ll be nurturing their own cycle of amusement and adoration.
Parents often make disparaging remarks about the baby so the older child will feel better. It’s fine for your child to feel angry or jealous, but you don’t want to model that okay to demean others. So don’t be mean about the baby, even in jest, or you’re giving your child permission to be mean-spirited. Instead, resist the urge to compare. Each child is wonderful, and at their own stage, on their own timetable.
Really. Hand the baby to someone else, if that’s possible. Your children depend on you to stay emotionally regulated, and that means you need to keep your own cup full. Figure out what keeps you centered, and work it into your schedule. Fostering a healthy sibling relationship requires that you stay in balance yourself.