New Baby, Meet Older Sibling: Parent Checklist

Written by: Jenny Shully & Amanda Gordon

There are so many resources out there for new parents. By the time #2, 3, or 4 rolls around, Mom and Dad are expected to be experts and not need much help.

However, when bringing home a baby to older siblings, there can be a variety of challenges in place. When we have worked with families as both doulas and therapists, we have found that this is typically a top stressor for the parents. We all have a strong desire for our older kids to love their new siblings, but it can be more complex than that. Kids often have a variety of feelings about welcoming that little brother or sister---not because they are without love or caring, but because their world is turned upside down.

Here is a handy checklist we love to help families think about as they expand their brood!! The theme of our checklist is this: routine, routine, routine!! Kids crave consistency, and by maintaining routine, you will model for them that their daily schedule is priority. 

Before the baby arrives:

  • Read books that tell stories about new siblings.
  • Use pretend play to help model what it might be like (get your child a toy baby, etc).
  • Practice separation and share the plan for what will happen to them during labor/delivery (if age appropriate).
  • Involve them in preparation for the baby.
  • Talk to your child about what it might be like when the baby comes home. Try to prepare them (depending on their age) for what the baby will actually do (eat, cry, poop, sleep). Kids have a hard time conceiving of the limited abilities of newborns.
  • Sloooowly integrate baby items into the household. A crib one month, an infant seat the next.
  • Be cautious of introducing other big changes during this time (potty training, switching beds, etc).
  • Gauge your own child’s individual ability to hold this information along with their feelings. For some kids, lots of talk and preparation will be anxiety provoking; for others, it will be boring.

During labor, delivery, and/or hospital stay:

  • Maintain your child’s routine as much as possible.
  • Recognize when it’s time to separate from them (i.e. when labor is causing you physical/vocal reactions). It can traumatic for many children to see their parent in pain.
  • Bring someone into the home to help, if possible, rather than removing the child from the home.
  • If the child is not there when you go to the hospital, leave them a note or some other token to let them know where you’ve gone.
  • Rest/recover a bit before having your child visit. If you are exhausted/in pain/woozy, it will be more difficult for you and for them.
  • Perhaps think about cards/letters/gifts the new siblings could give one another. This can help create a bond between the older sibling and the baby, and set a tone for their early dynamics.

After bringing the baby home:

  • Be prepared for possible regressions in your child (sleep disturbances, temper tantrums, etc).
  • Think about having your partner or another figure hold/carry the baby as you enter the house. This allows your older child instant access to you.
  • Know your limits as a parent.
  • Let your kid still be a kid (allow them to help, but only to a point). Ask yourself if you would expect them to help to the same degree if the baby were not there.
  • Be careful about pushing your child to share with their new sibling.
  • Allow for disinterest and ambiguity.
  • Maintain your child’s routine as much as possible
  • Remind visitors and family members to give attention to the older sibling.
  • Make an effort to get your older child out of the house.
  • Give the child a role in life events surrounding the new baby (i.e. in a bris or baptism).
  • Do fun things as a family! Show your older child that you are all one integrated unit, and that the good times still roll.
  • Tell your baby how great their sibling is when they are within earshot; i.e. “Look, James, John is so great, he put away his game! Someday maybe he’ll teach you to play that game”.

Most importantly: trust your instincts!! You know your child better than anyone, and what they can and cannot handle. Even through the haze of sleep deprivation, you will usually be able to measure how your child is handling this new member of the family.

And have faith. The siblings who start off pinching each other usually end up the best of friends. :-)

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Posted on March 23, 2013 at 12:24 PM