A new baby is an incredibly exciting time for an older sibling. It’s natural for your child to feel interested and intrigued by the new arrival. They may be keen to help out and look after their new baby sibling. However, there’s no doubt that a new sibling changes the family dynamics. And your older child will quickly feel that change. This can often lead to sleep disruption and regression for the older sibling.
A change in family dynamics
As a new baby enters the family, the happy anticipation can turn into a shock to your older child, especially if this is their first sibling. No amount of preparation can really prepare them for the change. A new baby will immediately demand an awful lot of time and attention. Inevitably, the older sibling will lose out on the attention they used to receive from their parents. In the first few weeks a baby can be all-consuming. They witness their parents running around after the new baby – rushing to change its nappy, feeding frequently and putting the baby to sleep throughout the day. Of course, there are also the new presents and attention their baby brother or sister will receive from friends and family. And then there is the crying and screaming that can be annoying or off-putting for older children.
Of course, the older sibling will genuinely love their new baby brother or sister. They will bring them toys, talk to them, cuddle and kiss them and even entertain them. The relationship between the two will develop over time and there will be a lot of factors at play such as the age gap and of course their individual personalities. It is perfectly normal for the older child to go through a phase of jealousy and even resentfulness. However, this will ease over time as they adjust to the new changes.
Any significant changes in a child’s life can lead to changes in sleep patterns and behaviours. It is not uncommon for the arrival of a new sibling to trigger a sleep regression. This is when your child who might have been a good sleeper, suddenly starts resisting bedtime, demanding a particular parent (usually mum) or waking in the night. This can be incredibly frustrating for parents who also have a newborn to deal with. Read my blog on sleep regressions here.
Fill their love bucket
The first thing I recommend for parents in these circumstances, is to ensure that you carve out special time with your older child during the day. This may not be easy, but even 15 minutes of truly focused one-to-one time with your older child will help give them a sense that they haven’t been forgotten and that they are still special to you. I would suggest having a regular time set aside every day, such as after lunch or dinner. Give this time a special name so that your child can look forward to it. It’s a time when your child can choose an activity which you can do together. Try to be totally present for your child (phones away if you can). Your child will learn to look forward to this special time and it will show that you are still there for them.
Focus on bedtime
Once a new sibling enters the scene, bedtime can become a battleground for competing attention. So it’s important early on to focus on getting it right. You want to ensure that bedtime remains calm and soothing. It may be that only one adult is around at this time, so you’ll want to work out a routine carefully depending on the ages of your children. Juggling these competing demands isn’t always easy. However, finding a routine that works for your family can make all the difference.
For some families, getting the baby off to sleep first can allow the parent to then spend some quality time putting the older sibling to bed. I suggest that if possible you share this task so that both parents take turns to be with the older child. The aim is to show your older child that they are loved and valued. If you’re a single parent, consider giving your older child a “quiet” activity like colouring or drawing whilst you put the baby to bed. If your baby is very needy and clingy, it may be easier to feed your baby whilst reading to your older one. This is a time for flexibility – you’ll need to find what works for your family. After a few weeks, things will settle down and you’ll find your rhythm.
Avoid too much change
A lot has changed in your older child’s world so this is not the time for even more change. If you’re thinking it’s time to move your child from their cot to a bed, leave it until everyone has become used to the new baby and good routines have been established. The cot to bed transition is tricky at the best of times, so it’s better to wait. For example, you don’t want your child to get the impression that they are they are giving up their cot for their new baby. Read my blog on the cot to bed transition for more information.
Nighttime wake ups
It is very normal for a child to start waking up at night shortly after the arrival of their new sibling. You should treat this as you would any sleep regression – it is a phase that will eventually pass. Until it does, try to remain as relaxed and patient until your older child settles down and they get used to their new reality. However, try not to allow the older sibling to slip into bad habits.
If you are still struggling with your child’s sleep and need to break some of their entrenched sleep habits, Sleep Superstars can help. We provide affordable sleep packages for babies and children aged 6-36 months. Each sleep package is carefully tailored to your child based on your answers to our online questionnaire. To find out more on how it works see here.