Teaching Kids to be Siblings Without Rivalry

Helping your child adjust to a new baby
young boy kissing newborn baby
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Introducing a new addition to your family is a very exciting time. It can also be quite nerve wracking! Resentment can ensue and introducing a baby can come with so many worries. Along with “I can’t possibly love another as much as I love my first!” and “Will I be able to manage both children?” you will wonder, “How can I help them avoid sibling rivalry?”

These are all very common worries and speaking from experience, we can assure you that you will be able to love equally and manage both (or more!). Moreover, your child will adjust to the changes and the bond that siblings have is beyond worth it. However, there are a few things that you can do to cultivate siblings without rivalry and ensure that the transition goes as smoothly as possible.

BEFORE BABY ARRIVES

Sing!

Before your new baby arrives, encourage your child sing the same song to your belly throughout your pregnancy. This will also come in handy once baby arrives.

Read

Begin to help your child understand the changes that will be happening with your body as well as what they can expect when the baby arrives by reading to them about it. There are a range of books available on the topic of a new sibling and the growth of a baby. Books can allow children to feel like they can relate to the character which gives them a sense of connection. Videos about a baby growing in the womb can also be very helpful for children who are old enough to understand.

Engage

  • Talk about what babies do and how your child can help once the baby arrives. “Little newborns need to be in their mom’s arms often. They can’t do anything by themselves but as they grow, we have to teach them how to do all sorts of things and you can be there to help me.”
  • If they are interested, have your child sing to the baby or rub your tummy. Don’t push it if they do not want to though—they will come around. Just keep attempting to include them and finding new facets that will interest them.
  • Take them to the store to help pick out some of the items you will use to decorate the baby’s room or the crib, room colour, baby clothes etc. You can have them help paint the walls if you are feeling very adventurous!
  • Take your child to one of your prenatal appointments and let them hear the baby’s heartbeat or see the baby’s image at the ultrasound

AFTER BABY ARRIVES

There will still be a lot of work to do once the baby comes home. Here are some ways that you can help your child adjust.

Maintain routines

  • If your child is in care when the baby arrives, consider keeping them home for just a few days to avoid having them feel left out and to witness the reality!
  • Once they have had a week or so to adjust, consider putting them in care, even if it’s only part time, as the structure and socialization will be good for them.
  • Regressions are common whether it’s toileting, sleep, or behaviour. Maintain as much consistency as possible, take time to reconnect and they will come back around.
  • Keep their home routines as normal as you can. Sleep, diet, and activities will anchor them securely.

Get support

  • Ask for help! If you do not have family close by, rely on your partner and friends to alternately spend time with the new baby and with the older child.

Celebrate

  • Have a little party for the arrival of the baby where your child gets to pick the decorations, food, and even games.
  • Have a gift ready to give the older child “from their new baby”.

Include

  • When people visit, make a point of talking about what a great big sister or brother the older child is and talk about them during the visit as well.
  • Have your child participate in some of the feedings, let them try a soother, allow them to hold their sibling with your help, touch their head when they cry, and involve them in the bathing of the baby.
  • Sometimes that song that they sang to the unborn child becomes a song of comfort to the baby when they cry (extremely helpful on car rides!).
  • Read to your new baby with your child present. If they are old enough, let them do it!

Teach

  • Teach them about empathy and how to carefully handle a baby. Perhaps give them a doll to wrap, clean, put in a carrier or stroller, and mimic what you are doing with their sibling. Some children will even like pretending to breastfeed!

ONE-ON-ONE TIME WITH THE OLDER SIBLING

Now that the work with bringing baby home is over, ensure that you are finding enough time to spend with your older child as well. Making time for one-on-one doesn’t have to be hard. Ten to fifteen minutes a couple of times a day can do wonders for their adjustment.

  • Go through pictures and videos from when your child was a baby. Little ones always enjoy seeing their younger selves. These images will also remind them that you did everything with them like you are doing with the new baby now.
  • Bring out the carrier and keep your arms free for your older child throughout the day. Your touch will help keep them feeling connected.
  • Newborns sleep a lot (usually) so put her down sometimes or allow someone else to care for her so that you can snuggle the older child on your lap.
  • Don’t be surprised if your child wants to act a little more like a baby for a few weeks. Sometimes allowing that can help them with some of their feelings. Pick them up like you would a baby, cradle them in your arms, put them in a sling or carrier for a few minutes, cooing over them just as you would the baby and make it into a fun game full of opportunities to make an emotional connection.

When a sibling is born, it can be a huge challenge for an older child. It completely uproots their life. Some children handle the changes a little more smoothly than others. Some children act out in many ways. Every child has their own way of dealing with changes in their lives and may show their feelings in various forms. It may be obvious and sometimes not obvious that the cause is from the adjustment to the new baby. It can even take up to a month or two after the baby is born to see some of the big emotions or behaviour emerge. Employ these tips to help everyone make the transition to enjoying this precious new life!

*Originally published November 31, 2016