January 7, 2023
If you were only expecting your child to dote on your newborn baby, you may be sorely disappointed and left completely frustrated. The sooner you acknowledge that this is brand new territory for everybody and accept there will be some challenges, the better you’ll be able to roll with it. This is a new family dynamic and it’s okay that everyone needs time to adjust. Understanding this gives you more room to offer kindness, love, empathy, and grace (this includes you, too!).
It’s hard to hear negativity from your older child(ren) when all you wish for is for everyone to love each other. You’re allowed to feel sad and disappointed that it isn’t everything you ever thought it would be. But it’s also completely normal, healthy, expected, and okay for children to have negative feelings about the new baby.
If you focus on ensuring that your child can express the negative feelings in a safe environment, the faster they’ll be able to work through it. Keep reminding yourself that all of it is normal, even if it feels so impossible. Instead of telling your child things like “oh you don’t think that! That’s not nice at all!” try acknowledging the feelings by saying “I hear you. Sometimes it’s hard having a new baby sister/brother. Sometimes you don’t like the baby at all and I get that.”
Eventually, your older child will adjust. Take it day by day, moment by moment even. Bear in mind that the process of accepting isn’t linear. Negative emotions will continue to resurface (especially when the new baby hits milestones like crawling, talking, etc) and the older sibling’s world will be affected in new and different ways.
But as time passes, you’ll notice less moments of upset and more time spent getting along.
It’s bound to happen at some point - your older child’s frustrations toward the baby are going to come out in some form of negative physical contact with the baby. Sometimes this is obvious, like hitting, and sometimes it’s a little less obvious like a “hug” that’s a liiiittle too tight or a pinch on the cheek.
These physical responses can be upsetting and frustrating for parents, especially when they’re directed at a baby. Poor impulse control combined with the anxiety of big feelings are all a recipe for getting physical. Intervene calmly (if you’re feeling anything but calm, ground yourself; remember that this is a normal response and it has nothing to do with what this future sibling relationship will be like, or your child’s social abilities.)
For example, stop your older child’s hand, and say something like “I can’t let you hit the baby.” or “I see you hugging the baby but I can’t let you hug that hard.” Keep your tone calm and remind your child that you are here to help, and that you love seeing them interact gently with the new baby.
When the baby is mobile, create a space where the older child can choose to go to, to play uninterrupted. It may be their bedroom or a part of the playroom where the baby can’t access.
Ease the tension by making an effort to spend time alone with your older child. The time together doesn’t need to be anything costly or fancy; ideas include taking a walk together, playing a game or reading books while the baby is napping or taking a trip to Target together.
Children go through a major adjustment when a new baby joins the family and it’s normal and healthy to struggle while everyone figures things out. Hopefully these tips will give you some tools and perspective to navigate these new relationships together!