Change is never easy. Couple that with being a little kid and you've got a recipe for some frustrating times. No matter what age they are, children who are used to being the only child in the household are going to go through some struggles when their new sibling comes home. Some children may even show signs that they're finding the change difficult long before that little bundle of joy appears on your doorstep (or however young children imagine it happens!).
Throughout the pregnancy or adoption process, there will be lots of discussions about the new child. Who will they look like? Will it be a brother or a sister? Where will he or she sleep? It will be exciting for the family, but also a bit overwhelming. Just as there will be many thoughts racing through the parents' minds, the same will be happening with the older child. Except children generally lack the level of emotional maturity to help them rationalize these thoughts.
Anxiety about change is completely normal, but it is important to anticipate it and have lots of talks about it before the big day, in order to prepare for this life-changing experience. The types and depth of the talks will of course vary depending on the age of the older child. It is important to reinforce that they will soon be sharing their parents, their life, and maybe even their room with another person, but no matter what, they are loved very much! The more you can talk to them about the change, the more comfortable they will be with the idea. If they feel prepared, they may not take the change so hard.
Here are some tips to help your "only" child adjust to a new sibling:
BEFORE the new sibling arrives
-Have frequent talks about the new sibling before they arrive. Discuss what will change, what will stay the same.
-Involve the sibling-to-be with the planning process - (ex: the nursery paint colors, picking out some new toys or clothing outfits, touring the hospital).
-Talk about the sibling-to-be's birth story and how exciting it was for the family when THEY arrived.
-If you have younger siblings, talk about YOUR experience when you got new siblings.
- Get them a doll to practice with.
AFTER the new sibling arrives
- Involve the big sibling when caring for the baby (let them help you change their diaper, help with a bath or hold the bottle for feedings.) They'll love feeling like a big helper!
- Do sibling story time. This is a great time to bond! Let the older sibling pick out a book to read to the baby.
- It may be difficult in the beginning, but set aside some one-on-one time with the older sibling, without the baby. It is a great way to keep that strong bond that you've established with them over the years, while reinforcing that even though they have to share you with another child, you don't love them any less. This will also remind them that although a new sibling is a big change, THEY are still special to you and nothing can change that. This will help to reduce possible resentment from all the attention the new baby will be receiving.
-Acknowledge their feelings. Whether they feel jealous, mad, frustrated, sad, or confused... let them. This change is not going to be easy on them in the beginning. They should be allowed to feel how they feel without being punished. Take time to listen, talk about it and help them through it. The beginning is so hard, but in time they'll adapt to their new way of life.
- Select a "big sibling gift" - something constructive that they can focus on playing with when seemingly all of your attention is on the baby
Young children will have no idea how truly life changing a new sibling will be to them. They may only be able to think about how weird it is that Mom and Dad aren't paying the same amount of attention to them as they used to. As parents, it will likely be difficult to watch your older child struggle with this, but know that it's worth all of the tears, and in the end it is great for both children to grow up sharing the things they value most. Siblings have an unbreakable bond and are one of the greatest gifts you could ever give to your children!