When a new sibling is introduced into the family, that is a big adjustment for your older kid(s). The family dynamic is about to change, which can cause your child to feel out of control. Anything we can do to help them have an understanding of what that change will look like will help them feel more in control and prepared for their new sibling.
So how can you support your big kid(s), especially those in the toddler and pre-school years to become an older sibling? We’re going to share tips for preparing prenatally, how to handle your older kid preferring one parent, and strategies for handling transitions throughout the day.
The information in this post came from the conversation I had with Caron Irwin on my podcast Bringing Up Baby. Caron and her team provide parents with comprehensive support to navigate the adventures and challenges of parenting and family life. You can find Caron at roofamily.ca and @roo.family on Instagram.
How A New Sibling Affects Your Older Child
When you tell your older kids that a new sibling is coming, expect big feelings, especially from toddlers and preschoolers.
They may be feeling uncertain or insecure around the arrival of a sibling. They will likely have big emotions, and you should know that this is a normal way for children of this age to express themselves.
So as parents what can we do to help and support our kids? If your child is old enough, talk with them about the change and let them know that when the baby comes they may feel frustrated or loud. Then come up with strategies for how to handle it when they feel that way. It also helps to prepare them before the sibling arrives.
Preparing Your Toddler/Preschooler For A New Sibling
There are a few things we can do before your new addition arrives to help your toddler or preschooler make a smoother transition to big sibling!
Children's books are a wonderful resource for families to use when a child's going to enter into that new role of big sibling. There's sort of two types of children's books that I suggest for families to look for:
Becoming A Sibling: Help them identify what the role of a sibling is, how they can help and how they can play and interact with their sibling. It can help them identify and put themselves in the shoes of the character that's being represented in the book.
Stories About Babies: Help them get an idea of what a baby is going to look like, and what they’re going to do (and not do) at first. This also helps them have a greater understanding and helps them feel more in control.
Role play can be a very helpful tool when preparing your child for a transition. Talk with them about how they may feel frustrated and loud, and then what you can do to calm down. Maybe it’s big bear hugs, or maybe it’s going to read a book or play with toys.
When they’re feeling frustrated, they likely won’t automatically go to play or read books, but you can say something like “I can see your bodies feeling really loud right now, why don't we go and try to read some books?”
The fact that you did that previously in a sort of fun, playful way when it wasn’t a moment of frustration can help them be more successful at using that strategy because it feels more familiar.
What To Do When Your Child Prefers One Parent
It seems inevitable that when one parent is busy with the new baby, your child only wants that parent. So what can you do to help them?
Know that parental preference is a very normal thing for a toddler or preschool age child, especially if they are going through uncertainty, or a big change like a new sibling at home. With a change they often feel a loss of control.
One of the ways that your child might find control or assert autonomy is by choosing what parent puts them to bed, etc. But what if the parent they want is busy or needed by their new sibling?
Empathy goes a long way. Acknowledge the fact that they want the other parent, but say that you are here for them and excited to do this with them. And then provide them with another way to have autonomy, like asking them if they want to choose a book to read, or if they want to put their pajamas on by themselves or if they want help.
Another thing they feel like they may be missing is one-on-one time with that parent, so making an effort to have time where they can feel a connection to you can be a huge help.
They don’t have to be big “Mommy and me” dates, if you have time for that, that’s amazing, but if not it can be 10 minutes of one-on-one child directed play. Get on the floor with them and follow their lead. It’s going to help them have the attention they are craving with you, and enable them to be more adaptable and successful when this parental preference thing plays out later on in the day.
3Cs For Preparing Your Child For A Transition
Transitions are not just big life events, there are many transitions in a child's day, like going from playing to bed time, or leaving the park.
There are 3 “C’s Caron likes to use to help a child start to recognize and use this as a coping strategy. It’s all about empowering them, rather than imposing things on them, which helps them be much more successful at moving on.
Before we transition our child from one activity to another, we want to give them a cue or a warning. What’s really important about this cue is that it needs to be tangible. We often say “in 5 minutes”, but it’s hard for them to understand what 5 minutes actually looks like.
Instead saying something like “when the buzzer goes off on my phone, it’s time for dinner” or “when you put the last puzzle piece in, then we need to go”.
Transitions are hard, and when people feel connected to those that they love, they can be better at doing hard things.
One of the best ways to make a connection with your child is to sit down next to them. Make a statement or comment about what they're doing and then ask them a question about it.
So you could say “that puzzle is huge and has so many pieces. I love how you were able to think and put them all together. What's your favorite picture on this puzzle?” Let your child then show you. When your child is in that role of leader, showing you their favourite part, it can really help them feel good and fill up their cup.
Provide your child with a controlled choice, where you have the end goal of getting them to do something, like eat dinner or go to bed, but you give them the autonomy on how they do it.
You can say “It's time for us to go to dinner, so are we gonna tiptoe there really quietly? Or am I gonna fly you there like a rocket ship?”
When navigating a big change in your family, like a new sibling, it can be hard on your older kids, but with some planning you can help them navigate their role of big sibling!
Preschool and toddler age children are finding their autonomy and want to be in control. By finding ways to give them choices that are still within our goals, they'll appreciate that autonomy, and they will start to be able to make those choices, fulfilling that need that they have in a more constructive way.
Both Lindsey and Ashley contribute to the blog! Sometimes also with guests and sometimes from conversations with guests :)