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A baby changes everything — especially for a child who is used to getting mom and dad’s full attention. Introducing and raising siblings when each child expects to be center stage is one of the trickiest balancing acts a parent can pull off.
There is no way to predict how a child will handle becoming a big brother or sister, says child development and behavior specialist Betsy Brown Braun, author of "Just Tell Me What to Say: Simple Scripts for Perplexed Parents.”
“You shouldn’t overthink it, but I do think there are things you can do to prepare that sibling,” Braun told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie on Wednesday. For more tips on happy sibling relationships, read advice and stories (or add your own!) on the TODAY Parenting Team.
Braun offers these tips for making things go more smoothly:
1. Visit other families with babies
A toddler doesn’t really understand what’s coming, so it’s helpful to expose her to a newborn and show her what changing a diaper and giving the baby a bath look like, and what it sounds like when the baby cries. This works best for 2- to 4-year-olds.
2. Allow the sibling to help prepare the baby's room
Say things like, "See? These don't fit you anymore. You can't fit in the crib anymore." Framing it that way shows you’re not “taking” anything away from the older child.
Be aware that a child will take toys from an older sibling. A 2-year-old won't mind in the long run, but a 4-year-old will want it back.
3. Be prepared for regression
The older child may want to be a baby again. He may use baby talk and want you to hold him like a baby. To illustrate the changing family dynamic, it may help to show the child other families with babies, or even animals: "Look how the dog is taking care of her puppies."
4. Return to your regular routine
If the house is too busy with visitors and relatives, it can become overwhelming for the older child. Going back to a familiar routine is comforting. He'll realize mommy still tucks him in and that he still goes to school with the same morning schedule.
5. Teach lessons in sharing
Braun doesn’t believe parents should buy presents for their firstborn child when a baby joins the family, because it perpetuates the idea that the older child gets everything. That also means no presents from the new baby.
“I’m not into that because part of this reality is going to be learning to tolerate disappointment and frustration, and delay gratification,” she said.
“But when that new baby gets gifts, certainly give it to the sibling and say, ‘The baby can’t open it. Will you open it for him?’”
6. Prepare for jealousy
You can say to the older child, "I know this is really hard; I know you don't want me to hold the baby right now." Then have some special toys to distract the child that she gets only when you are tending to the baby. Buy a doll and have your toddler bathe “her baby” while you’re bathing the newborn.
Inclusion always works better than exclusion, so have the older child be a helper: Keep the diapers on a low shelf so he can bring one to you. Change the baby where he can watch you, so he feels included and knows what's going on.
Look back at his baby photos, so he knows he got the same attention when he was a newborn.
Are you ready for a new TODAY Parenting Team challenge? Tell us what you do to reduce stress and increase joy during the holidays.