Helping Older Kids Adjust to a New Baby

My older son was 2 years and 8 months old when his little brother was born.  I’d agonized for a long time about child spacing, and was worried about how Sol (my first born) would handle the addition to the family.  We’re 3 months into being a family of 4 and I’ve learned a lot that has made the transition much smoother than I expected.  So I’d like to share a little list of things I wish I’d known before baby Ezra was born. (With some pictures of the new brothers thrown in for good measure.)  A lot of these might be obvious, but they weren’t to me, and have helped maintain peace in our house!

1. Talk about the new baby a lot before they are born!  Around the time I really started showing and going to midwife appointments more often (probably around 28 weeks) we started reading a book that lined up with what our little guy was going to experience.  We planned to deliver in the hospital and to breastfeed.  There are lots of great books out there for families planning to homebirth, too!  We also made sure to choose an age appropriate book.  We changed the name of the baby in the book to Ezra and read that thing Every. Single. Day.  We talked about family members and friends who had recently had babies, pointed out little babies in the grocery store, and watched videos online of babies cooing and nursing and sleeping.  When the day came for Ezra to be born I had labored most of the night and knew we’d be going to the hospital sometime that day.  We told Sol it was time for Ezra to be born and he got to pack his bag for his Aunt’s house.  He remembered that we were going to the hospital and that we would call him when Ezra was born.  He knew he would get to play with his cousins and eat cookies and have a sleepover.  And he knew that we’d ‘Be right back.  Sol hold baby Ezra.’

2.  Let the older sibling help with the baby.  At first I didn’t really want Sol to help hold Ezra, or help change his diaper, or help give him a bath.  I was worried he would hurt him on accident.  I also wanted him to just enjoy his brother, not do the ‘work’ part of having a baby in the house.  Then I realized that ‘helping’ with the baby was very meaningful for Sol.  It made him feel proud of himself and more connected to Ezra.  It also helped him do something WITH mommy, instead of mommy doing even more without him.  So I made it work.  It took a little extra effort and patience, but it was worth it.  I taught Sol where our cloth diaper stash is and let him bring me one every time he wanted to.  I moved from a rocking chair to the couch for nursing the baby, so that Sol could sit right there with us.  We practiced bouncing Ezra together in his bouncy seat and talked about how babies only like to be bounced gently and not too fast.  I let Sol get in the tub with me and the baby and wash him gently with a cloth.  And now he is such a great big brother.  He tells people who come up to see the new baby to ‘Only touch him gently!”  And as soon as Ezra so much as makes a fussy sounding peep Sol runs to find my nursing pillow.  I don’t require him to do anything, but his natural expression of love and interest in the new baby is to help.

3.  Put your older child higher on your ‘to do’ list.  My first thoughts when Ezra would go down for a nap went a little something like this: “Okay, I need to get the laundry switched or we are going to run out of diaper inserts in the middle of the night.  I’ve got to get online for a few minutes and pay that bill.  And then I need to make a grocery list so hubby can go to the store for me tonight.  And then I need to sit down and drink a big glass of water.  Oh! I should probably call my mom, too, she needs an update on the baby.”  Sol would have been occupying himself so beautifully and using his words all day instead of melting down and I would totally skip over him when I had a baby-free minute!  He was being so great, that it was easy to just let him keep doing his thing.  But I found that this ended in disaster for Sol in the end.  He would run out of patience, get angry at Ezra for monopolizing mom, and act out to get the attention he really needed.  So now whenever Ezra goes down for a nap  the first thing I do is something with Sol.  We sit and read some books.  We wrestle for awhile.  We get out the paint and get messy.  We make banana bread together to surprise Dad when he gets home from work.  Sometimes we just sit together on the porch and watch the cars go by.  I am never going to look back on these years with two young children and say “Man, I wish I had kept up with the laundry better.”

4.  Get out of the house!  When Ezra was born I had pretty much everything I needed.  I had kept Sol’s baby clothes and diapers, my sister in law had handed down her bassinet, etc.  So instead of buying me more baby stuff I didn’t really need, my mom bought us a big sandbox and sand toys.  She set it up when she came to visit after Ezra was born.  That thing has been such a life saver!  After Sol’s nap we go out there and he plays with his trucks and buckets in the sand and I put Ezra in the bouncy seat in the shade right by us.  Sometimes I pretend to make a sand pizza and gobble it up with Solomon, sometimes I sit quietly and guzzle an ice water, and sometimes I even (gasp!) make a phone call.  Some days we walk over to a little park by our house.  I put Ezra in the sling and let Sol go wild with the other kids.  We have a snack and look at bugs and Ezra sleeps through the whole thing.  Getting out of the house makes the day go faster, preserving my patience and sanity, and it also gets us fresh air and a little exercise.

5. Date your older kid.  Solomon and I have started doing swim lessons twice a week.  It’s just a little half-hour parent-toddler class at our local rec center, nothing expensive or intense.  Basically just play time in the pool while teaching basic swimming skills like blowing bubbles.  I leave Dad and Ezra at home, and sometimes Sol and I even grab an ice cream cone after.  I nurse Ezra right before we go and he usually sleeps for a couple hours.  So Sol and I get some giggly one-on-one time, Dad gets some much needed time alone to check football recruiting news, and Ezra doesn’t even notice.  My husband, Levi has been taking Sol out to his favorite park for an hour or two on Sunday mornings.  They dig in the sand and get nice a tuckered out for a good long nap.  Sol loves the time with just Dad and no baby.  I love the leisure of reading a book 30 minutes IN A ROW!  And everyone is much happier for it.

6. Find time for yourself.  This is linked to #5 somewhat.  You are filling up the love-cups of two little people now.  You need time to recharge.  You need time to stare at Pinterest mindlessly.  You need to meet up with a friend sans kids for a smoothie.  I was totally amazed at what a half an hour trip to the coffee shop with a good book did for my energy and outlook on life.  Even if your partner or a friend can just take the kids to play in the back yard for half an hour.  It is necessary for your sanity!

I know all you parents out there of more than one kiddo have some stellar advice and ideas, too!  Enlighten me!  How did you make the transition from 1 to 2 or from 2 to 3 easier?  How do you make time for a special one-on-one with your older kids?  Will it get easier or harder as “baby Ezra” turns into “walker Ezra” turns into “3 year old Ezra”?

Author: Alissa

Alissa writes at A New History where she blogs about the challenge of authentic living with her husband, Levi and her almost two year old son, Solomon.

20 thoughts on “Helping Older Kids Adjust to a New Baby”

  1. Thank you so much for this great article!! We have just found out I am pregnant and our daughter will be two years and three months when the little one is born. I have been so worried about the age difference and how my daughter will accept the change that so far I have not started enjoying the pregnancy, and feeling guilty that I am not happier with the news… I am also concerned about breastfeeding as my daughter still nurses morning, night and naptime (ie. to get to sleep) and shows no signs of the pregnancy slowing her down! Will I have the energy to tandem feed?? It seems pretty challenging and I am already starting to feel more sensitive about my daughter’s feeding…My daughter does already love helping out with babies though and will enjoy those aspects of being a big sister. But will hse be ready to let me carry the newborn in “her” sling when she still loves to be carried? So many questions!

    1. I tandem fed and I am sure that it increased the close bond between my children. Will you have the energy? You could make supporting you to be able to do this a priority.
      Could you ask for a rota of help from family and friends for the first six to ten weeks? An evening meal delivered to your home, a trip out to the park for your older one, someone to hold the baby while you make a simple meal with your eldest, and then for you to take a nap – you’ll know what help you need to ask for.

      Make sure you still carry her in ‘her sling’ from time to time, but help her to make a sling for one of her special babies so that most times you can both carry your baby.

      She will handle the big change well if you do. You will if you have enough support. We used to be surrounded by neighbours, parents, grandparents, aunties, and nieces to help us – you may have to create your own ‘village’ of support.

      1. Thanks Kim for your reply. Unfortunately we are not in a situation where we have family close by (ie. they’re on the other side of the world!) and although we have made good friends in our new town, we have not known them for long. It is this lack of support that worries me in particular though even for our first daughter we did not have family around…

        1. Yes, we too had our family on the other side of the world (literally) and were relatively new to our village. It takes courage to ask ‘new friends’ but it was the start of those friends becoming newly-dependable friends. Years on, those same friendships are our bedrock of support – and it all started when we were new and in need. I dare you to ask!

    2. Energy for tandem nursing? Yes, feed yourself well! Make some freezer meals ahead of time, if at all possible. This saved my family from bad take out more than once! Since your older child is already down to just a few times a day, it otherwise won’t be that bad. Perhaps, for a while, she’ll ask to nurse more often, or she may decided that she doesn’t want to anymore (it’s for babies!). Honor her feelings about it, and don’t worry about your supply – more demand = more supply. About halfway through your pregnancy, you’ll switch from milk to colostrum, and back again a few days after birth. No big worries. I was actually grateful to my 19 month old when I engorged after my second son!

      Make a new sling for the new baby. That helped immensely with my two boys. When your small one is down for a nap, carry your older one. I second the suggestion for a child sized sling for her baby dolls! Carry her dollies around in your sling, get her used to the idea that you can carry someone else. Learn a back carry!

      I hope all goes well for you and your family. Congratulations on the pending addition!

  2. Thanks for this great post .. . we are 4ish weeks from welcoming our new little one. Our little girl is almost 4, and we are having another little girl. I really appreciated the things you said, especially the part about choosing to put the older child on the “to do” list instead of focusing on laundry, etc. It’s tempting to do sometimes now; I can’t imagine what it will be like with a new baby. But I always try to remember that I WON’T remember whether or not the floors were clean, but I will remember the looks on her face of happiness when we spend time together. Thanks again for this. A gift to me and something to remember in the weeks to come!

  3. Great post. We are trying for our second baby and I’m a little bit terrified! It seems like a great gift to give your child a sibling… eventually. But I’ve read too many horror stories about the early days with a new baby. It’s nice to have some solid tips to work with.

  4. Luv it what great tips. I wish I had read this before I had my babies and While I did find no.1 wasn’t enough by following through with ur other tips it has greatly helped my 30 month old son adjust not to 1 baby but 3!!!

  5. We’ve had four children, but I had to be talked into having our second I was so nervous about those early weeks of caring for a new-born whilst also having an older child.
    My main advice to parents expecting another addition to the family is not to ask or expect older siblings to always welcome the change. I ams sure that they will be delighted by their new baby brother or sister, but change is unsettling and a new baby in the family inevitably means that they have to give up some of your time and attention. Let them be upset about this. Let them feel disgruntled, sad, frightened, and cross. And remember that they may not be able to express it directly – you will need to interpret their bad moods. Loving attention is usually the cure – so expect to gather your big ones to you lots.
    And if you are going to have the resources over these early intense weeks, you’re going to need family and friends around to support you. Parenting is not a job designed to be carried out alone. Ask for company and mini-breaks (it’s amazing what an hour alone can do to recharge a person).
    Our relationships with our siblings can be some of the longest of our lives, you are getting yours off to a great start if you can make parents’ well-being top priority.

  6. I have 6 children, and am expecting another. My oldest is the only girl, and at 11 she struggles with feeling like she doesn’t get enough time with me. We’ve implemented a monthly “date night”, where we go out for a few hours and spend time together. We make sure we take plenty of photos, and then we take a trip to a local craft store for scrapbooking supplies. Each month gets 2 scrapbook pages. Not only do we get special time together, but we have a scrapbook to remember them all!

  7. Introducing ‘Girls’ Together Time’!
    – once a month, for a few hours, alone together – just you and your daughter. It can be a time to have fun, to really talk, to share a simple pleasure, to do something you’ve both been longing to do…

    The point is to be together, regularly, something she can count on. Be as creative, simple, adventurous, ordinary, inexpensive, extravagent, experimental as you wish.

    Once she realises that you plan to take this time together, that it is in the family diary, she feels your commitment to her. She knows there will be a special space for the two of you regularly.

    I believe ‘Girls’ Together Time’ can form the basis of a healthy on-going relationship with your daughter into the teenage years. One day, maybe not soon, but some day, your daughter will begin to bleed once a month. This monthly treat of time alone together will then shift to happen on the week of her menstruation and can become a valuable pressure-valve where you can give her the opportunity to talk, sound off, weep, take a break, and feel your support.

  8. Hello there, You’ve done a great job. I’ll certainly digg it
    and personally suggest to my friends. I am confident they’ll be benefited from this site.

  9. Great post, a friend forwarded it to me after seeing one of my posts on Facebook and reading my worries about night time routines with a four year old and a new baby brother (to be born in January).
    Night time is very special to us as it’s the time we read bedtime stories, unwind and eventually go to sleep in her bed(at least I stay there until she falls asleep). She is also going through this “afraid of being by herself” stage and could not do sleeping on her own in a dark room.
    She doesn’t take very kindly to daddy putting her to bed either as she sees him as a playmate rather than a soothing presence.
    What are my options, I started telling her she will not have me every night once baby is born but she think now “having a baby isn’t such a good idea.”

  10. I loved your article, it’s funny because my oldest son Isaiah will be two years and eight and a half months when his little brother, also named Ezra is born :). He is very attached and has been a pretty high needs kiddo from birth, and I really love your suggestions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.