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Avoid Sibling Rivalry When Bringing a New Baby Home

Ten Ways Grandparents Can Help


The thrill of welcoming a new grandbaby sometimes causes grandparents to forget that their other grandchildren need them, too. Making the new baby’s siblings feel special is a perfect job for grandparents. Parents should be involved as well, but in the hectic early days of caring for a newborn, they will probably welcome grandparents’ help. Avoiding sibling rivalry and jealousy when bringing a new baby home is a job best tackled by the whole family.

1. Prepare the way.

Photo © Ben Schneider

Savvy parents and grandparents will lay the groundwork for a healthy sibling relationship during pregnancy by including older children in conversations about the new baby and in making necessary preparations. Many hospitals help by having sibling classes, providing “Big Brother” or “Big Sister” tees and giving the older children goodie bags. For their part, grandparents should avoid focusing too much on the pending arrival and should give the older children lots of attention.

2. Do hospital duty.

If the new grandbaby was born in a hospital, and the hospital allows siblings to visit, you can be there to facilitate the visit. Perhaps you can be the one to take the older children to the hospital. You can certainly be available to take the kids out of the room when they get restless or when the baby needs quiet time with the mother. Hospitals are full of fascinating vending machines; give the grandkids a stash of quarters and take them to buy a treat, or take them to the nursery window to check out the other newborns.

3. Be a considerate visitor.

Once the new grandbaby comes home, you’ll be coming for visits. Be sure to greet the older siblings first. The new baby won’t mind waiting a while to be held, but the siblings will notice if you go straight for the newborn first. I've read about one grandmother who arrives and lavishes attention on the older children, seeming surprised when they tell her that they have a new brother or sister. Many grandparents won't want to go to that extreme, but they shouldn't run over their older grandchildren to get to the new baby. They should also be very careful not to make any extra work for the parents

4. Bring gifts.

Even if you are not the type of grandparent who normally brings gifts, it is a good idea to bring small gifts for the older grandchildren. The baby will naturally be getting lots of gifts, and the siblings may be feeling slighted. Be especially aware of gift-giving pitfalls, though. Steer away from loud toys, as well as anything that would create a mess or that requires a lot of parental supervision.

5. Take them away.

In the days after the baby is born, spend time with the older siblings. This is a perfect time for you to take them on outings such as visiting a museum. You’ll get their undivided attention, and the parents will get a little break. If the grandchildren are accustomed to occasional sleepovers at your house, think about scheduling one. Don’t take them home stuffed with junk food, overtired or too dirty.

6. Emphasize the brother/sister relationship.

Refer to the baby as “our baby” and “your sister” or “your brother.” Emphasize how lucky the new baby is to have siblings. If the siblings are able to entertain the baby or make the baby laugh, be sure to point out how much the baby likes them. At the same time, it is important to allow the child to express both positive and negative feelings about the new arrival.

7. Relive the older siblings' baby years.

Looking at baby books and baby pictures of the older children will reassure them that they were loved as babies just as the new baby is loved. Sharing memories of their baby years will also help them bond with the new baby, especially if you point out things that they had in common with the new baby.

8. Reinforce mature behavior.

Many children react to a new baby by reverting to childish behavior. This regression is more likely a reaction to stress rather than an attempt to imitate the baby. Praise the older children for mature behavior. Don’t shame them for babyish behavior. Celebrate the older siblings’ milestones, such as learning to tie shoes or write simple words.

9. Make time for laughter.

Households with new babies can be rather serious places, as parents deal with sleep deprivation and other challenges. Make it your mission to bring laughter when you come. Telling jokes and riddles, playing silly games or watching funny movies can be tension-breakers for the whole family. If parents are very stressed, take the older children and your hijinks outside.

10. Honor the family unit.

Many factors affect relationships between siblings. Some of these, such as gender difference and personality conflicts, are out of the family's control. Family members can, however, control their behavior to other family members. Grandparents should be especially careful about how they communicate with their adult children. Having parents and grandparents who consistently model loving and considerate behavior is key in avoiding sibling rivalry.

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