If this isn't your first baby, you already know all the preparations you need to make before you give birth. One thing you may overlook, though, is the need to prepare yourself for the new behaviors and skills kids pick up when they become big siblings. Your older kid(s) will be adjusting to the new family dynamic right alongside you, and you can expect to see a lot of changes in them in the coming months as a result, from increased independence to being more interested in helping out.
While there will certainly be some rough patches throughout this process, there will also be some wonderful things that your big kid picks up along the way (and those will probably stick). Here are some of the behaviors you can expect to see.
"If your child had been potty trained before the new baby arrives, they may suddenly not want to use the potty, but want to use the diaper or have frequent accidents," marriage and family therapist Jenny Limm, MFT, M.Ed., tells Romper via email. You may also notice them asking you to help them with things they could do on their own a few weeks ago or request a longer bedtime routine. This regression is perfectly normal, and to be expected as they come to terms with the attention the new baby is getting. While this behavior may be understandably frustrating, "it is so important not to shame them or discipline in any way with this," says Limm, but rather give them positive reinforcement by encouraging them when they're acting like a big kid.
Your new baby probably has your hands full, literally and figuratively, so you'll be pleased to know that your big kid will likely gain some more independence as a result. Limm says this is one of the changes you can expect to see in your older child during this transition. What this looks like depends on their age and abilities, but it could mean they're getting snacks for themselves, changing their clothes without help, or getting ready for bed while you're busy putting the baby down for the night.
With so much attention on the new baby, it's probably not a surprise that they'll be finding creative ways to get the spotlight back on them. "This might look like having more tantrums, acting out against the new baby, [or] requesting more snuggle time with parents," marriage and family counselor Ilyse Kennedy, LPC, LMFT, PMH-C, tells Romper via email. Other behaviors you may notice is easily frustrated or angered when they're not being tended to or "risky or dangerous behavior to get their parents' attention," says Kennedy.
It's really tempting to get angry over this behavior (especially when you're un-showered and sleep-deprived), but try to show them some compassion. "These behaviors are connection-seeking," says Kennedy, "Kids aren’t necessarily [aware] of what they need and have difficulty asking for what they need, so what we see as 'bad behavior' when a sibling comes along may actually be connection-seeking." Don't flat out ignore the behavior, though; use it as an opportunity to identify feelings. "It is important to validate their feelings first," says Limm, "Reassure them that they are loved and that they are still doing really well adjusting to changes."
You may get to experience a real-life mini-me when the new baby comes along because your big kid might start pretending they are a parent, too. "They might practice helping with a doll or stuffed animal," explains Kennedy, "and pick up nurturing habits" all from watching you. When you see this, "make sure you're praising them for taking such good care of their [baby or stuffed animal]," suggests Limm.
Recognizing & Remembering Baby's Routines
Your child has been exposed to routines and sequences since birth, but Limm says you might find that they're more in tune with them now and can remember multi-step processes a little easier. She explains that this is likely because they're paying attention to what you're doing with the baby. For example, if they've been watching you change the baby's diaper, they'll learn "these are the steps and these are all the materials needed to complete this task," explains Limm, which may make it easier for them to remember some of the regular sequences in their own life as well.
Wanting To Help
Big kids love to prove just how big they are by offering to help out around the house, and this is especially true when it comes to helping out with their baby sibling. "They may want to 'co-parent' with you," says Limm, by doing things like "letting you know how the baby is feeling [or] if the baby is crying, telling you what they think your newborn may need." If there are ways for them to help safely, let them, or ask them to help you with something else like grabbing a pacifier or a burp cloth. If there's just nothing they can help with at that moment, "simply thank them for their thoughts/concern," suggests Limm, "and reassure them that they can go play and not have to worry about the baby."
The big takeaway here? Offer your older child compassion and validation. Also, remember that a little bit of attention will go a long way. "Though parents may be less available, having special time with the big sibling helps them still feel seen and aids with adjustment," says Kennedy. Regular one-on-one time with your older child will make a big difference, and it's even better if you let them pick what you do together. "If you can, commit to a consistent schedule," says Limm, "a minimum of 30 minutes a week of uninterrupted playtime with your older child where they can decide what to play/guide the activity." Besides that, let them help when they can and encourage the really great new behaviors and skills that come with this transition.
Ilyse Kennedy, LPC, LMFT, PMH-C, Specializing in trauma from childhood to adulthood
Jenny Limm, MFT, M.Ed., Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in Sex and Relationships