Children Adapt To A New Sibling
"Yes, but when does Joey go back to the hospital?"
At times, parents may ask you for advice in helping their children adjust
to a new brother or sister. Most children welcome new siblings with
excitement and affection, but the changes in their lives may also
frustrate them. A mixture of positive and negative feelings and behaviors
is common in children when a new brother or sister arrives. For example,
children may feel jealous and left out, but they may also feel a great
deal of pride and affection for their new sister or brother. Here are five
ideas based on current research that can help promote good sibling
TIMING PLAYS A PART
Parents often consider timing when they are planning a new child. Some
experts believe that children between 18 months and three years old have
the hardest time adjusting to new siblings. Children under 18 months may
have fewer problems because they don't realize how life is changing for
them. Four- and five-year-olds have more mature social and cognitive
skills, so they can handle frustrating situations better than
three-year-olds can. Parents should think about these things, but they
should make their decision based on what will work best for the entire
PREPARE CHILDREN FOR CHANGE
It's important to prepare children for a new child. Most parents read
books about new babies to their children. Some excellent books on this
topic include *101 Things to Do with a Baby* (Ormerod, 1984, Puffin Books)
and *She Come Bringing Me that Little Baby Girl* (Greenfield, 1974, Harper
Trophy). Another good book on this subject is *A New Baby at Koko Bear's
House* (Lansky, 1987, The Book Peddlers). Parents may also introduce their
children to newborns when they have the opportunity, and they may talk
about what a new baby can and cannot do. If the family is adding an older
child through adoption or foster care, the same sorts of activities will
help children prepare. Activities like these can also occur in child care
settings. You probably should include some of these stories and
discussions if you're aware that a child in your group is expecting a new
Many hospitals offer sibling preparation classes. Young children who
attend can see where their mother will stay if she is going to the
hospital. They can also learn what new babies are like and how to avoid
hurting them. All these ways of preparing children for the first set of
changes they will experience can be very helpful.
Prepare children for the way they should behave with the new baby. Parents
often worry that their older child may be too rough with the baby. As a
result, they may emphasize many things children should not do with their
younger siblings. Parents should give more attention to showing children
ways they can have a safe and enjoyable time together. An older child
needs to know how to play with a baby, how they can communicate, and how
to handle conflict. Most sibling preparation programs do not work on the
social skills a new brother or sister will need.
Parents help children with these skills as they give them suggestions and
feedback on a daily basis. Children may also learn skills that set the
stage for good sibling relationships by playing with other children.
Children who play well with their friends are more likely to develop good
relationships with their siblings (Kramer and Gottman, 1992). When your
child is playing with other children, note her ability to manage conflict.
See if she helps to keep the emotional climate pleasant. Child care
providers also help children develop these skills. As they promote good
peer relationships, they help children learn the skills they'll need for
good sibling relationships.
IT'S ONLY TEMPORARY!
Some children regress in their behavior when a new child arrives.
Children may be more demanding, have more toilet accidents, or they may
have trouble sleeping. Although these problems can be annoying, parents
shouldn't worry about them too much. They usually disappear in three to
five months. Many children show signs of greater maturity when a new
sibling arrives. They may take pride in showing that they are different
from their little brother or sister because they can dress themselves.
This is a great chance to praise children for helping in a stressful
situation. Remember, though, that the same children who are showing off
their new skills can also be showing immature behaviors.
IT'S NOT JUST LUCK WHEN KIDS GET ALONG
A good sibling relationship is more likely if parents value it. Parents
should think about the way they would like their children to behave with
each other. Then they should help their children learn to behave that way.
If parents think it's important that siblings share, they should look for
chances to praise this behavior. For example, "I like the way you and
Joey are playing together with that truck." If parents value
closeness and affection between siblings, they should look for examples of
this behavior to praise. Parents should model the behavior they want to
see in their children. They should avoid behavior that they don't want
their children to imitate.
HELP YOUR CHILD LEARN HOW TO BE A SIBLING
Help your children find a role to play with their new sibling. Possible
roles include assistant caregiver, teacher, helper, or playmate. As
assistant caregiver, a child could fetch diapers, help entertain the
infant, or help decide what the baby needs or is trying to express. Don't
push children into a caregiving role, though, if they don't want it. If
you do, they may feel that being a sibling is only a burden. Help the
child find a different role to play, or wait until the baby is older and
the children can interact together more successfully.
ONE LAST PIECE OF ADVICE
Babies seem to come into the world ready to adore their older siblings.
Make sure your older children know how important they are to their brother
or sister. It will give them a sense of pride and foster mutual enjoyment.
Kramer, L., and J. M. Gottman, 1992. Becoming a sibling: "With a
little help from my friends." *Developmental Psychology* 28:685-699.
Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care -
NNCC. Kramer, L. (1995). Helping children adapt to a new sibling. In Todd,
C.M. (Ed.), *Child care connections*, 4(5), Urbana-Champaign, IL:
University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.