Ashley is a momma to her virtual twins, daughter’s Eden and Shiloh. As a former Purl family, previous blog contributor and mental health therapist, Ashley loves sharing what she has learned about children and the adjustment of adding siblings to the family. Though most days she is a stay-at-home momma, she contributes at Ataraxis Counseling LLC, where she supports women and mothers as a mental health counselor. You can follow along at Ataraxis_Counseling on IG, or at ataraxiscounseling.com.

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There is rarely something more anticipated than watching your child respond to their newest little brother or sister. Will they be excited? Will they struggle to communicate feelings of sadness or jealousy? Surely every child responds to becoming an older sibling a little differently: and there are various seasons of adjustment for the child. At first the child may be wary of the new baby, feeling anxious when the baby cries or has constant needs that overlap the older child’s time with mom and dad. With time, consistency and with the younger child’s development, the older sibling’s feelings can decrease in their intensity and when the baby finally offers a first smile at him or her, many of us watch our older children fall in love. Inversely, the older child may be positively charmed at first sight, but with weeks that ware on, reality hits him and halts the lovey-dovey exchanges. Regardless of how those first few months go, there is nothing like siblings developing a life-long bond, no matter how our children come to us. Depending on our children’s ages when they become big brothers or sisters, there are many things parents can do to help with the transition. No matter the child’s age, devoting time and conversations with our children to help them prepare for a new sibling is vital.

My Irish Twins (Older siblings less than a year old)

My daughter was only ten months old when we brought her sister home from the hospital. I had imagined opening the car door to her grinning face as she lovingly doted on her new doll-like sister. My expectations were shattered within two seconds of them meeting one another. I had my husband video-tapping Eden’s response, naively prepared for the next viral video of two siblings in love at first sight. Instead, Eden burst into tears at seeing me hold another baby, and crawled over to me howling. Tanner quickly snapped off the recording device and swooped Shiloh out of my arms before Eden clawed her out of my grip instead. Now, I know my story isn’t necessarily common, most people don’t choose to add more kiddos until the youngest is older than ten months. But something we have tried to commit to from the start was ensuring we had one on one time with parents, devoting attention to one baby at a time. In the early mornings, Tanner would wake up with Eden and would take her to have breakfast and play for an hour or more while I stayed in bed with our new baby. It was nice that Eden did not have to share her dad’s attention, and that I could devote eye-contact and physical touch to our newest member. We continue to strive for one on one time with each daughter throughout the week, sometimes even rotating nap schedules so that I can devote personal time with each daughter. This has helped Eden immensely with the transition.

2-4 Years Older

Many toddler’s vocabularies and understanding of what is going on around them starts booming as they age. One Purl family shares with us that reading and sharing books on becoming a big sibling worked well to prepare their child for a new addition. Many child psychologists believe it is never too early to introduce books to your children about content you want children to absorb or begin processing. Books often give child-appropriate language to describe difficult feelings in order to prompt more communication between parents and kids. Many books spend significant time reassuring children of their special place of love and belonging in the family, regardless of who joins. Picture books help younger children understand more about what a baby needs and how to cope with the unfamiliar noises of a newborn. Another family shares that they gave their toddler a baby doll around the time they were adding their son. The older son could practice bathing, swaddling and bottle feeding the baby when the parents cared for the newborn. They share that it made their son feel included and like his efforts to help take care of his doll were reflective of love for his new brother. Here are some recommended books about bringing a sibling home:

+I’m a Big Brother & I’m a Big Sister By Joanna Cole.
+My New Baby By Rachel Fuller.
+The Berenstain Bears’ New Baby by Stan & Jan Berenstain.
+The New Baby by Mercer Mayer.
+Best-Ever Big Sister & Best-Ever Big Brother By Karen Katz.
+We Have a Baby By Cathryn Falwell.jerry-wang-0qmXPnZKeLU-unsplash (1).jpg

4 Years and Older

Older siblings can benefit from having an open dialogue with their parents about gaining a sibling. Not just simply asking the child, “How do you feel about becoming a big brother or sister?” but asking, “is there anything you’re nervous or excited about? What do you think will be the most challenging part about us bringing home a new baby? What do you think will be the most fun about having a new sister? What are you excited to teach him or her?” can help the child process more difficult feelings related to the change of adding a baby. In addition, it gives the child space to talk about negative feelings and creates a framework for parents to share realistic expectations for the transition. An adoptive family with a child who was ten when she became a big sister was given a present before he was born. The gift had some goodies for summer break like nail polish and reading materials, but also had a new shirt and baby onesie that were matching. This adoptive momma shares that this gift made her daughter feel special and reminded her that her role in bringing up the baby was important and valued. Another adoptive family shares that giving their older child certain “baby duties” encouraged the child’s positive interactions with his sibling. Allowing the older child to help change diapers, to make a bottle or to burp the baby (depending on the child’s age and developmental abilities of course), can evoke a sense of communal participation and purpose. After all, feeling left out or not wanted during this time of transition can be damaging for our children. Most of all, as with any age, bringing home baby should be a time of celebration but also sensitivity to the range of feelings experienced by our other children.

The added layer of adoption

It is hard enough preparing a child for a biological sibling, but adding a child through adoption adds another layer of complication. There is stress and uncertainty on the whole family during an adoption wait. When we were matched with our daughter’s expectant mom I remember as a momma asking myself, “is this really going to happen?” while we waited in the months leading up to our daughter’s birth. That level of ambiguity is difficult even for us adults to grasp-let alone, our children. Even though a family might be matched with an expectant family for some period of time, that child is not theirs until the expectant mom makes the decision to place her child after birth. Other times, there is no time to prepare for a new addition at all, if an expectant family makes an adoption plan at the birth of the child. So, in adoption, you often don’t have the benefit of time to prepare your child for a new addition, and if you do, your child could end up very disappointed if they are expecting a sibling that ultimately doesn’t arrive as planned. It can be helpful in the adoption wait to talk generally about adoption, how families can be formed differently, about the love they will have toward a future sibling, without necessarily defining when and how that child may come. We look forward to sharing the story of a special family who added to their family after a disruption in their journey, and how they talked to their older children about it. We look forward to sharing their wisdom.

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