Leah Young, of Hilliard, knows a thing or two about preparing kids for a new sibling. With three girls at home and pregnant with her fourth, Young is again facing the task of months of preparation — both for herself and her family.
Young and her husband Cody started early to prepare Brinley, 8, Avery, 5, and Aspen, 3, for the arrival of another sister in December. They’ve been talking about the baby, watching videos online together and taking the girls to ultrasounds.
But Young said she knows that no matter how much a parent prepares, their children’s ages and personalities will create a range of reactions to the new baby that are as unique as each child.
Brinley, for instance, was 3 when little sister Avery arrived, and she greeted the new baby with excitement. Two years later, however, daughter Aspen arrived and the more energetic Avery displayed anything but affection.
“I couldn’t let the baby out of my sight,” recalled Young. “I felt like I played Keep Away for the first year.”
For children under 3, this type of reaction is not uncommon, said Dr. Yvonne Gustafson, Parent Consultant at the Elizabeth Blackwell Center at Riverside Methodist Hospital.
“There’s a big growth spurt between 2-1/2 and 3 years of age where children’s ability to recall information is greatly enhanced,” Gustafson explained. This can affect how a smaller child understands what a baby is and how it should be treated.
When a new baby arrives, toddler-age children may try to revert to behaviors they have grown out of, such as using a pacifier.
“These kinds of behaviors are just a child trying to figure out the difference between a baby and a big kid,” said Gustafson, adding they should diminish with time.
Children ages 2 to 3 also haven’t mastered the skills of sharing, said Dr. Daniel Coury, the chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.
“They don’t share toys well at the preschool,” Coury said, “and they don’t share mom and dad’s time well with other people.”
Common acting-out signs for the younger set include hitting, throwing and yelling.
Children in the 4- to 6-year-old range are less dependent on their parents and may have learned how to share, so the envy of a new sibling shows up differently for them. Coury said they may be more verbally hostile and say things like, “You never play with me anymore.”
Coury recommended that parents try to maintain their prior schedules as much as possible, so older children still have a familiar routine. When children express frustration, acknowledge their feelings and reassure them that you still love them. If a child is physically hurting the baby, step in.
Before all else fails, focus on the positive. Catch children being good and praise them for it.
“Anytime they aren’t being bad, they are being good,” Coury said. “Praise is a good thing for all of us. Someone needs to tell us we’re doing a good job. We need that reinforcement, so we keep doing it this way.”
Regina Mann, of Pataskala, said that patience has been crucial in helping her daughter, Eryn, 4, adjust to baby sister Meagan’s arrival 10 months ago.
Mann said she also makes the most of one-on-one time with Eryn while Meagan naps; they read, cook and play together.
“For so long, it had just been her and I, and now, during the day, (it’s) the three of us,” Mann said. “The individual time helped with the transition.”
Children over 3 often have the emotional maturity to understand how to treat a baby and can be a big help to parents. However, it is essential that parents teach older children what they can do, said Gustafson. As helpful as older children can be, “we don’t want to ever signal that it is a child’s job to take care of the baby,” said Gustafson.
Very age-appropriately, Mann said, Eryn now loves to read to her little sister, Meagan, and offers her advice on things like potty training.
Bringing home a new member of the family is never easy but Young said she feels confident her girls will handle it well. Young also enjoys the extra excitement that the girls bring to the long months of pregnancy.
“It is so exciting to share this with more people that feel as much love as I do for this baby,” Young said.