Family

Not an only child anymore: Helping your child adjust to a new sibling

Author: Canadian Living

Family

Not an only child anymore: Helping your child adjust to a new sibling

Being an only child rocks. You're the centre of your parents' universe, you get to name the pets, you have the backseat of the car to yourself, and chances are, you're the apple of Grandma and Grandpa's eyes. But suddenly, the bump in Mommy's belly turns into a real live brother or sister… and your world's never the same again.

While most kids will bond with their new siblings – involving them in the pregnancy by having them come along on doctor's appointments, and helping you prepare baby's layette will help – the adjustment from Only Child to First Child can sometimes take time. Here are some tips for helping your firstborn cope.

Toddlers
Child No. 1 may soon never even recall a time when she was an only child. Cool. (But the challenge for parents is dealing with diapers and dependence times two!).

• Give him a baby doll he can take care of, just as you take care of your new baby.
• If he's moving out of the nursery, start the process a few months before your second child arrives so you have the energy to help him adjust, and so he doesn't "blame" baby for the move.
• If you have the energy, stagger their naptimes so you have some one-on-one time with him while baby sleeps.

Preschoolers
Some experts believe kids between 18 months and 3 years of age have the hardest time adjusting to this life change. Be patient, involve him, and get him psyched about his role introducing baby to world and vice versa.

• Don't share the news too early. It can be hard to be patient for nine months. (Also, miscarriages can happen even if your first pregnancy was complication-free, and explaining what happened won’t be easy.) Later in your pregnancy, feel free to take him along for your ultrasound appointments.
• Sign him up for a sibling orientation session at the hospital.
• Enlist that preschooler desire to help. Ask him to fetch diapers, to entertain baby at "the other end" while you change diapers, to help you feed baby, and so on.

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Grade school kids
Give her the opportunity to prove what a big girl she is. But don't forget what a little kid she remains at heart, and be sure to pay extra attention to her.

• Double up on your shopping. Take her for her back-to-school-gear, holiday formal wear, summer-camp gear and so on, and let her pick some of her little sibling's stuff, too.
• Appoint her your enforcer. It can be awkward to ask guests to wash their hands as soon as they walk in the door. Luckily, your bossy little seven-year-old can be trusted with getting them to the sink or assailing them with hand sanitizer.
• Decorate the nursery with her artwork. Frame it and hang it low so she can see it.

Tweens & teens
While overt rivalry is less of an issue, too-cool-for-school big kids can act like having a new sib's nothing to get excited about. Get them interested and on-board by engaging their maturity.

• Bond through humour. Joking about diaper changes and sleepless nights can diffuse tension (and maybe even segue into another discussion about birth control!).
• Resist the urge to use him as a free babysitting service. It's not fair to saddle him with "parenting" responsibilities unless he expresses interest and aptitude.
• Engage him in reading to the baby. This is a low-pressure activity that allows him to help out, bond with baby and build his own reading skills at the same time.

All ages
• Spend some quality time alone with your firstborn. Hit the playground, see a movie, go out for a meal together. Make it a regular habit.
• Get them books about adjusting to a sibling. Ginger by Charlotte Voake is a charming board book about a pampered cat who must adjust to life with a new kitten; it's perfect for toddlers through to seven-year-olds, as is Kevin Henkes' funny Julius, Baby of the World. Some Dog! By Mary Casanova is great for first and second graders. The ages six to 10 set will probably like the zany world of Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything by Lenore Look.
• Don't forget the gifts! Take your firstborn on a shopping date before Baby No. 2 arrives. Catch a movie, have lunch, and let her choose a gift for her new sibling. Have it wrapped and put it aside, so she can "present" it to her new baby sib when he arrives home. Don't forget to have a gift from baby waiting for her, too! Remind those close to you that a small gift for your older kid would be appreciated if they are visiting with gifts for the newborn, but it can be a smart idea to have some inexpensive wrapped items set aside in a closet for when guests forget.

Jealousy is a normal response with the arrival of a new baby. Learn how to deal with sibling rivalry.

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Not an only child anymore: Helping your child adjust to a new sibling

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