As the weeks drew closer to the birth of my second child , I found my anticipation of his arrival replaced with something else–I felt afraid.  Not for the birth, but something entirely different. I found myself grieving the loss of the one-on-one relationship I had with my first child, and worrying about how different things would be when the baby arrived. Would I still have time to read to her?…What would I do when she wanted attention?… Would she think she wasn’t important anymore? …of course, those fears were easy to remedy by balancing my time and helping her feel as though she was a key part of the new baby’s life.  But handling the birth of a new baby can be a serious challenge for some older siblings.  Being a big brother or big sister may not interest them–and while some older kids take the task on full-force, others will require more hand-holding and the watchful eye of care givers to make sure everything goes smoothly.

I once witnessed a difficult adjustment of a big sister to her new baby.  As her mother’s nurse, I was in the room when mom and dad gave big sister a present from her new sister Paige.  The mother lovingly handed the three year old a baby doll who’s name was Paige as well–and she told the little girl that she had her own new baby to take care of now too.  The older girl took the doll, and stared at her only a few seconds before grabbing it up by its feet and beating it headlong into the wall while she screamed “Hate baby Paige! Hate baby Paige!”  I quickly made an exit from the room, hiding my laughter, and I have often wondered how those first few weeks at home were for that family.

Difficult adjustments to new babies are normal and should be expected.  But I can’t stress enough that helping the older child (or children) feel that they are still important to you is key.  Here’s some tips you may want to consider:

  • If they don’t want to participate in the baby’s care, don’t force them.
  • Give them time, and when they require your attention, place the baby in a safe place and spend time with your older child.
  • While baby doll Paige blew up in the face of one family, a gift from the baby to younger siblings may be a good way to break the ice too.
  • Make sure that when your other children visit for the first time at the hospital, that you are not holding the new baby when they enter the room. Place the baby in the crib, or have another family member hold the baby to lessen tension, and then introduce the baby after lots of hugs and welcoming cuddles with your older child.  Taking this important step helps reassure them and promote  much needed security.

Every child will adjust differently, so be patient and forgiving and realize that everyone is adjusting to having a new family member. But stick close, love a lot and everything will work out fine.