Transitioning from One to Two Kids: Becoming a Sibling

So your only child is about to become a big brother or big sister. What do you say? How do handle this transition? Here is some helpful and handy advice compiled from the Park Slope Parents Groups over the years.

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Things to read/ watch

 

Books for Adults

 

  • The Second Child, by Joan Solomon Weiss
  • Twice Blessed: Everything You Need to Know About Having a Second Child -- Preparing Yourself, Your Marriage, and Your Firstborn for a New Family of Four, by Joan Leonard
  • Welcoming Your Second Baby by Vicki Lansky
  • Baby Makes Four, by Welcomi Hilory Wagner
  • Loving Each One Best

Check out our list HERE of what's available at the Brooklyn Public Library!

 

Books for Kids

 

  • I’m a Big Brother & I’m a Big Sister, by Johanna Cole
  • Baby On the Way, by William Sears, Martha Sears
  • What Baby Needs, by William Sears, Martha Sears
  • Zaza's Baby Brother, by Lucy Cousins
  • 101 Things to Do With a Baby, by Jan Ormerod
  • Barney Meets the New Baby, by Maureen M. Valvassori
  • What to Expect When Mommy's Having a Baby, by Heidi Murkoff
  • The New Baby at Your House, by Joanna Cole, Hella Hammid
  • The New Baby: A Mr. Rogers' First Experience Book, by Fred Rogers (good for younger kids I think)
  • Arthur's New Baby Book, by Marc Brown
  • There's A Brand-New Baby At Our House, by Susan Ligon
  • Waiting for Gregory, by Kimberly Willis Holt
  • Room for the Baby. by Michelle Edwards
  • Hello in There! A Big Sister's Book of Waiting, by Jo Witek
  • I'm The Big Sister!, by Susan Ligon
  • Peter’s Chair, by Ezra Jack Keats
  • The New Baby, by Mercer Mayer
  • Before You Were Born, by Jennifer Davis
  • Waiting for Baby, by Rachel Fuller (this might be perfect for you because it's tailored for young toddlers, very very simple text)
  • Hello Baby by Jenni Overend (this one is very specifically tailored to home birth and what the sibling might see when the baby is born at home, so it might not be relevant for you) 
  • A Chair for Always (also about a home birth, but the protagonist doesn't actually witness it, it's happening upstairs)

 Check out our list HERE of what's available at the Brooklyn Public Library!

 

Movies for kids

  • Sesame Street - A New Baby in My House
  • Blue's Clues - Blue's Big News - The Baby's Here! VHS ~ Steve Burns

 

PREPARATION TACTICS & TIPS

 

Books

 

  • Read books to #1 about getting having sibling (see Books for Kids)
  • Create or show #1 a Baby Book with their baby pictures, starting with when s/he was in Mommy’s tummy. Tell him/her the birth story, emphasizing that babies need Mommy a lot (nursing, crying “because babies can’t talk”).

 

Transitioning Tactics

 

  • If #1 is over 3, sign him/her up for a sibling class (they have them at Mt. Sinai West, NYU and other hospitals). (They usually don’t have them for kids under 3)
  • Plan a visit to the hospital so #1 has a better idea of what will happen to Mommy when she goes to have the baby.
  • Arrange play dates with people who have babies--and whose older siblings were thrilled. Let #1 watch the babies nurse, get changed, etc.
  • Consider doing a tour of the hospital with #1 before the new baby.
  • If baby #2 is going to take over the crib, transition #1 out of the crib into a big kid bed a few months before baby #2 arrives. (Elmo has a “big kid bed book”).
  • Prepare #1 for the transition. If #1 is going to go away to Grandma’s for a long weekend, tell them in advance about the great visit they are going to have and get them excited.

 

Baby Dolls/ Stuffed Animals

 

  • Buy a realistic baby doll and accessories to help #1 understand what it will be like to take care of the newborn and practice taking care of the newborn. (Note: for those of you who have issues with buying baby dolls for boys, please read William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow—it’s also on the Free to Be You and Me soundtrack/movie.
  • Play doctor, pretend #1’s stuffed animals have babies, talk about what needs to be done to take care of them, etc.

 

Talk to #1 about #2 (unless it is creating too much anxiety)

 

  • Talk about how the older children are big siblings and the kinds of things they must do with their baby sibling.
  • Emphasize how big kids get to do things that new babies can’t do (play, go to music class, etc.)

 

Gifts

 

  • Take #1 shopping and let /him her pick out a special gift to give the baby.
  • Have some great gifts ready to give #1 FROM the baby--more doll accessories (a doll "bouncer" chair, little blankies, diapers, fake car seat, stroller, etc.--it was CHEAP for that stuff at yard sales, Walmart and Target).

 

Have #1 Help/ Get Involved

 

  • Ask #1 to help (e.g., assemble the new furniture for #2’s room). Stress/compliment what a helpful big sister they already are.
  • Be careful not to put too much emphasis on becoming a “big” brother or sister since #1 has always been the baby (especially for younger kids).

 

Be Prepared for Anxiety

 

  • Over-doing it on the preparation can also lead to anxiety in #1. As you talk about #2, the changes that will occur, the hospital, etc., don’t be surprised to find that #1 gets a bit overwhelmed and also has setbacks in some milestones they’ve passed (e.g., potty training, sleeping, etc.). Lay off the “baby #2 talk” for a while unless #1 is bringing it up.
  • One of the best things I read (a la Penelope Leache) about understanding how #1 will feel about #2 is to think about how you would feel if your spouse came home and said, “I’m getting married again. It’ll be great.” That’s how it can feel for your first child, even though they might not be able to articulate it.

 

 

ADVICE ON HOSPITAL VISITS

 

  • It’s important for #1 to see that Mommy is okay at the hospital, although some people suggest not having #1 visit unless it’s time to take Mommy and the baby home. (You know better if your child will be able to adjust to a visit from #1 that doesn’t include everyone going home.) If #1 is going to just “visit” and is not coming to take Mommy and the new baby home, give him/her something to look forward to (go out for ice cream) after you leave the hospital. Having to leave Mommy at the hospital can be hard for #1.
  • Consider having #2 out of the room when #1 comes to visit. If the newborn is in the room, advice was consistent that Mommy should not be holding #2 when #1 arrives. If you have #2 in the nursery, allow #1 to go with you to the nursery and push the newborn back to the room.
  • Definitely do the touch test with your belly, so she understands the baby is out and in your arms.

 

Gifts

  • Have a gift FROM #2 to #1.
  • Let #1 help open the gift that s/he picked out for #2. (This could be the “going home outfit”).

 

ADVICE AFTER ARRIVAL

 

Be Patient

  • Be very patient and extra loving the first few weeks. if your 3 year old wants you to hold her like a baby then that is what you need to do. When the newborn starts interacting/smiling it usually gets better.
  • Try not to get angry or stressed if your older child lashes out in any way against the younger one. Instead, try to spin it positively. A member relates a great story her mother tells about a woman who walked into a room just in time to see her older son trying to hit her newborn in the head with a toy hammer. She rushed over and took the hammer away, but instead of yelling, said, "Look at what a wonderful brother you are! You're trying to share! But the hammer is maybe not the best toy for the baby--how about giving the baby a stuffed animal instead?"

 

Make Special Time with #1

 

  • Make sure to take #1 out without #2 if possible, even if it’s just for 15 minutes to get a slice of pizza. Perhaps a once a week “Out of the House” event.
  • Realize that when #2 is quietly nursing that this can be great bonding time with #1 to tell stories, talk and snuggle.
  • If nursing is taking up a lot of time, suggest that the older one "nurse" his teddy bear so #1 feels less left out.
  • Consider "pretending" both #1 and Mommy are the baby. Cradle #1 and use baby talk, and pretend to give her/him a bottle/nurse, and reverse it where Mommy is the baby. Might remove the fear that #1 can never be the baby again, while at the same time helping him to realize that he didn't necessarily want to be the baby all the time.

 

Keep #1 Busy

 

  • Try to keep #1 as busy as possible with classes, playdates, etc.
  • Rely on friends to help by taking #1 for playdates without Mommy and the newborn.

 

Get #1 Involved in Helping

 

  • Getting #1 involved works well with most kids. Have #1 bring over the bottle, a toy or burp cloth, etc. Make a huge deal about what a great help this is.
  • Let #1 hold her new sibling.
  • Have them sit/lie close together on the bed while they watch a video.
  • Ask #1 if they can help you guess what her baby brother/sister might be saying when she cries.

 

Keep Continuity

 

  • It can be very disruptive for #1 if the rules for basic behavior go out the window when the baby comes home. They still need the same structure and boundaries that you always provide, otherwise it seems like you've vanished too.
  • Talk about taking turns such as “it's the baby’s turn now to be held by Mommy/Daddy.”

 

Share Attention as Much as Possible to Avoid Resentment and Jealousy

 

  • Remind visitors to give #1 attention and not too lavish too much onto #2.
  • Think about keeping a stash of small gifts for #1 in the event that visitors bring a gift for #2 without anything for #1.
  • Don't lavish too much affection on the newborn when the older child is around. There is enough time during night feedings, etc., when #1 isn’t around.

 

Let Your Language Help

 

  • Don’t blame the baby. For example, It's not time to leave the playground because the baby needs to go home, but because it's lunchtime for the big kid. Consider asking #1 to be quiet because it is too loud for Mommy and Daddy, not for the baby. After a while slowly ease into asking #1 to do things or not do things because of the baby's needs.
  • Put words into the newborn's mouth, and "interpret" his/her emotions for the benefit of the older child--for example, say things like "Wow, isn't it AMAZING how the baby looks at you? Look at how much s/he adores you! S/he thinks you are the most incredible older brother/sister! S/he loves you SO MUCH!"
  • Complimenting the older sibling is very important, like, "Wow, you can run soo fast; baby can't yet."  Or “You can say so many things, and baby can just say a goo”; “You are so lucky- you get to eat pizza and the baby is too young.
  • Let #1 know that s/he doesn't have to share toys, etc.--you can work on sharing a lot later, when the younger child starts showing interest in the older child's things. Making sure that there are a few things that #1 doesn’t have to share (e.g., favorite lovey) is also important.

 

 

FINAL WORDS OF WISDOM (Quotes from PSP members)

 

  • “With time and understanding it all works out and before you know it you have a 2 and 3 year-old who love to play together and neither of them will sit still long enough so that you can hold them like a baby.”
  • “Those first 2 months are HARD no matter how you prepare the sibling. They want mom and you are holding/nursing that baby 24/7, which is totally normal - but a 3 year old doesn't know that."
  • “I found it got naturally easier at around 12 weeks or so, once the baby started interacting/smiling with big sis and feedings became a little easier/more regular.”
  • “Remember too, that you have already taken care of one child, so you know what it entails and that confidence and knowledge will help you navigate through rough waters.”
  • “I was sooo worried because some members of my family had said things that hurt, for example: Oh, poor Michael's world is going to fall apart; he's no longer number one, etc... You get the picture. So many things that people say just lead to unnecessary worry!”
  • “I am so happy my son has a brother so close in age, not just because they'll be playing together, but because it is teaching him so many valuable things - sharing, giving, developing empathy and loving.”
  • “It is important to remember that sibling relationships are life long and develop and change over time. They can be volatile at times and connected and warm at others. They are not made in the short weeks after the birth of a second or third child but as the kids grow up together.”
  • “Understanding your own relationship to and feelings about your brothers and sisters as well as your position in your own family of origin will go a long way to being clear about what you bring to your new family situation. (For example, sometimes we find that we tend to strongly identify with the child who occupies the same position as us.) In turn, that understanding will make it easier you act in a way that will facilitate the integration of a new child into your family. And most importantly, accepting everyone's feelings, including your own, will be the most helpful tool in helping everyone adjust. Of course, the many specific things that have been mentioned can contribute to setting the stage for harmonious family life. But everyone has ugly feelings sometimes and kids usually cannot express them so clearly in words. As is the case in all relationships, they will sometimes act out or express these feelings symbolically.”
  • “Remember, you have given your kids a great gift: someone with whom they can double team you (don't forget to teach them how to use 3 way calling for this!), someone they can complain to about you and someone who can understand their frame of reference when they are adults.”
  • “It's most often the case that I get overwhelmed when I have expectations for a harmonious co-existence between them, or between them with me. When I can remember, and really accept, that, in fact, this can be quite painful for the older child, and that not only is this par for the course, but that this, at times, exasperating experience for my son is exactly what he needs to go through, that these are growing pains, that I can really see the benefits of learning to share early on (share--in the deepest sense).”
  • “I have never emphasized that he is to love his sister right away.”
  • “Offer alternatives to the hands on stuff, including the usual inanimate object projection, or to try to touch gently when the hitting impulse strikes, to walk away, to talk to me about what he's feeling, or i will embrace him when it appears that what he really needs is a good cry, and encourage him to do just that.”
  • “In terms of how the older one deals, the first few months are not so much of a problem for a lot of families. Basically, again you keep being the parent of the older child. So you nurse while you read a book, you go on the playdates, the little one just gets toted around. All attention is on the older one. The problem is around 6 - 9 months when the little one is particularly cute and getting a lot of attention, and then is mobile, and can wreck what the older one has made/built/created, etc.”

 

MORE ADVICE:

 

Here are a few things that helped our kids and others we knew:

 

  • Attention to the older child is a real issue and shouldn't be lost sight of. People get absorbed in a new baby. Not only the parents but lots of visitors are paying so much attention to the baby, and the older child can feel neglected. I think people have gotten more savvy than they used to be (e.g. my big kids got big sibling presents when the baby got a baby gift) but it's worth making an effort to ensure that the big one doesn't get lost in the fuss over the new baby.
  • We put together something that was like a baby book, but it was a Big Brother or Sister book. The original Big Sister book was for our friends' daughter, M., who was five when her little brother was born. My spouse at the time (now ex) invented the idea and it has been helpful for many children since. It was a "Trapper" (brand name of a looseleaf type thing with folders and construction paper pages) and we had some preformatted pages (i.e. that we preformatted):
  • Draw a picture of the baby
  • Trace your hand and the baby's hand
  • Paste in a picture of you the day you became a big sister and so on. But most of the book was empty and it was left for the kid to ask all visitors to sign a congratulatory message to her on becoming a big sister. This allowed for a ritualized way to ensure that some attention was given to the older child by people coming to see the baby.
  • My partner and I also gave M a little "Big Sister Party," welcoming her into the world of Big Sisterhood (my ex and I are both Big Sisters). Try finding a family friend to offer a special Big Brother or Big Sister outing in those early days, when your older child may feel trapped at home (particularly if the weather is inclement and/or you don't want to take the baby out yet).
  • We stressed the things our big kids could do that the baby couldn't. "What a big boy you are, getting that book down. I bet the baby wishes she were a big kid like you."
  • We pointed out that the baby waits, too. Older siblings get told a lot that they have to wait because the parents are picking up/diapering/feeding etc. the baby. We made a point of telling the baby to wait, too. So, I'd say, for example, "I'll be with you in a minute, Kendra. I'm just pouring the baby's milk." It had the same effect on her as the more common "Mommy's coming!" - my voice calmed her - but it made a different point to him.
  • I find that so much of parental advice on this issue comes from the assumption that the coming of a new baby is a bad thing for the older child and the goal of the parental response is to make it less bad. I really think it can be very positive and that parents cue kids into how to feel about it in part by the way they present it. FWIW, our two older kids adapted very well to having new babies in the house (although the feelings about siblings as they got older have varied, sometimes day to day and sometimes minute to minute).

 

AND EVEN MORE ADVICE FROM A 8-2013 THREAD

 

  • We're in the thick of it too, only our little guy is 8 months old, and it's still happening for us. It's a big take-down for them, to be sure, after four years of being the center of attention (almost five, for our older daughter)! It's made me so glad to be the baby of our family, I have to say -I don't envy what it must feel like to be an older sibling when the baby shows up. Unfortunately I don't have any major words of wisdom, but I will say that when I remember to really validate her feelings, things seem to cool off for a while. The few times she's felt free enough to yell that she hates her brother and wishes we were a family of three again, I've just responded with a hug, "I know. This must feel really hard sometimes," and that just seems to deflate the upset feelings, and shortly thereafter she'll usually say, "I didn't mean that. I was just upset," and I'll say, "It's ok to feel that way. This is a big transition." And I can see that those moments are really helpful to her. I know that I've opened the door for her to open up about how she's feeling but with my mommy-brain haze I really can't remember how. I know I'm trying not to put words in her mouth but might just tell her how I can see she is feeling really frustrated, and she then will elaborate. A friend gave me a bit of advice that I really appreciated and found useful, which is that I've also made sure to remind her, in our fleeting quiet moments together, that I'm learning to be a mom to two children now, and I've never done it before and have to learn as I go, and sometimes it's not so easy for any of us, but I'm trying, and doing the best I can. 
  • And I do know that when I manage to carve out time for her - more concrete time for just us, even a walk around the block - everything is better. It's just hard to do sometimes, of course, with a baby. Gosh, I'm reminding myself, I really need to do that again pronto! She'd started nail-biting a lot, and when I started being more understanding and focused and there for her, she stopped."
  • I will say that many people told me that it took 6 months for the adjustment to happen and I did find that 6 months was a huge improvement and then a year was when things felt pretty normal, that we were just a family of four. Of course, there are setbacks, but generally speaking it got so much better after 6 months."
  • It's a difficult balance- we're still working on it.lately, as baby is sleeping through, we read books together in the morning. grandma is also a special member of the family that seems to belong exclusively to big bro. we also try to spend quality time when its
  • naptime and i do a summer camp pick up on friday which we refer to as our special lunch date/dessert date- time we go to restaurants together or meet up for a playdate."
  • She is only 4 and may not even realize exactly what she feels about her new brother let alone alone how to express it. Have you asked whether she misses time alone with mom and dad? Have you asked whether she's angry at her new brother for taking her mom and dad's attention and time. Whether she's jealous about it. She may feel she is not allowed to hate him, and if you give her a safe place to express herself, you may find her behavior improves tremendously."
  • I find that many parents tell their children they are not allowed to use the word hate. The children then correctly understand that their parents believe that when they have intense feelings, they are bad for having the feelings. I know parents do this with the best of intentions, but I think our children are far better off learning it's normal to have strong emotions and that there are lots of ways to express them. Of course, that means you have to remain very neutral if she expresses anger and hatred for her brother. Anyone with siblings knows that throughout our entire lives the very people we love dearly make us angry too. I think her entire world was just turned upside down and if you acknowledge that, she will know she has a safe place to express herself and that she's perfectly normal.
  • When this happened to my son we spoke very openly about his jealousy and how sometimes he hated the very existence of the creature who changed his life. I believe with my whole heart and soul it was acknowledging and legitimizing those feelings which helped him transition. To me it was not so different from those moments when I hated him with all my might for "ruining my life." Of course, I love him dearly but boy did I go through some wicked post-postpartum. And I know having a safe place for me to express myself helped me get through those days! I think you just have to remember she is only 4 and needs some help in being able to express all that she is feeling."
  •  Our 5-year-old son (who was 4 1/2 when little sibling was born) had a difficult transition for about the first 5 months. Around 6 months, things got much easier. We did 2 consultations with a fantastic psychologist , Ken Corbett, who heard us out and gave us some very gentle guidance on what to do (most of it was about creating space for the child's negative feelings about the sibling). Ken also met with our son once, just to rule out anything bigger going on.  Bottom line: it gets better with time!"
  • We have a now five year old (4 when he became a big bro) and an almost 7 month old and he went through a very very similar transition. He was acting out at school and having similar tantrums at home and just being super difficult (lots of very intense hugs and being really silly and clumsy around the baby). I don't know if this is the case in your home, but we realized we were tired and unprepared for his behavior and were snapping at him and raising our voices a lot. These were things we rarely did before the baby and so we realized this must be really hard for him. We made a really good effort to not raise our voices and decided to only correct him around the baby stuff if it was really something dangerous (we kind of let the small stuff go..like strong hugs and little pokes and such). We also talked to him about how we were going to try to not do those things but that he also had to try to not do x,y and z with the baby. This definitely worked, but it took time... I think we are still in the transition, although much much better now. We also tried really hard to praise him for all the good touching and playing with the baby. And one other thing we realized we were doing was saying things like, "you love your brother, right?" or "you don't want to hurt him, do you?" and we noticed that this wasn't giving him the opportunity to say, yes, I do want to hurt him and I don't love him. So we started saying things like, is it hard when I can't play with you because I have to feed the baby? or do you sometimes wish he wasn't here.. and on and on. He really engaged with these questions and cried a lot and told us all sorts of feelings. It was hard to hear, but so good for him. Now when he gets frustrated he'll often just huff and say I wish baby wasn't here--a big improvement from melting down at home or school. I think it really helped to be able to share his ugly feelings. It's so much better now.. it think a lot of it is just time and patience... which is so so hard to come by at 2 months! I think it's also really hard at 4 to suddenly have to share your parents. I thought it would be easier since they are so independent, but I think it's that much harder. Good luck!"
  • My daughter was 3 when my son was born. Same issues. Tantrums, stomach upset. Going over and over her baby book and pictures of her and memories of her helped. Also lots a alone time with her, no baby. Pointing out all the grown up stuff she is allowed, ice cream, pierced ears, etc.  Seems like 6 months for other kids i have seen, but was more like a year for us. Better every week though. I started drinking coffee for the first time and a more occasional glass of wine helped too."
  • My 3 year old sounds similar, even down to the stomach ache (which I think is sympathy pains with the baby's gas). What's made it easier is spending one on one time with the older kid. We got a sitter to watch the baby so that I could take baby to the children's museum or the carousel. We only go for a couple of hours so that I can come home to nurse/pump. If you can afford it, maybe that would help the toddler's overall attitude.
  • My only advice is to hang in there and let her express herself. My kids are the same spacing as yours. And like you, my first is a girl and second is a boy. We read a lot of big sister books before and after he was born (our favorites were How to be a Baby by Me the Big Sister and the Angelina book where Polly is born.) My daughter swore up and down that she wasn't going to be jealous and that she was never going to say mean things to or about the baby. We just told her that it was ok to be jealous, etc.
  • And for the most part she was amazing when her brother was born. But she went from being fully potty trained to having so many nighttime accidents that she was back in diapers for over a year. And there were of course the times when she said she wanted him to die. I just responded that I knew she didn't mean it but that I knew how hard it was sharing Mommy and Daddy. But she was also pretty bratty at times and I can't say that anything special worked other than consistency & time. 17 months later they share a room and they play really well together. There is still jealousy with both of them. But we make sure to have special times where she gets a parent alone for an activity that he's not invited to and he'll be starting a gym class in the fall so he will get that time too. Two weeks ago she decided she was done with diapers which I think means she accepted the new order of things.

 

Last updated March 2017