5 Tips for Introducing a New Sibling to a Child with Special Needs
Welcoming a new sibling to the family is exciting. A new brother or sister gives your older child the opportunity to be a role model and, most importantly, build the type of familial bond and lasting friendship that only exists between siblings. But, with the excitement also comes a change in your family dynamic. It is normal for any child to feel jealous or uncomfortable, but if your older child also has special needs, she may have a harder time adjusting to life with a new baby.
1. Start preparing your older child early for upcoming changes
Tell your older child about the new baby early in the pregnancy to allow her plenty of time to get used to the idea of having a younger sibling. This will also give you enough time to notice specific fears that might be making your older child apprehensive. Be sure to talk openly with your child, address any fears and encourage her to ask questions.
If your older child is due for any developmental milestone changes (i.e. potty training or moving to a new bed), start those transitions during pregnancy to ensure enough time to work with your older child and make sure she understands the baby is not the reason for the change. Many changes at the time of the baby’s arrival may be overwhelming for your older child.
2. Involve your older child in planning for the baby
Encourage your child to be part of the planning process by letting her help pick out baby supplies and decorate the baby room. Help her learn about your expanding family by having her choose family pictures to make a collage for the nursery, leaving spaces to fill in with pictures of the new baby.
When you have decided on your family plan for the day of the birth, make sure she understands how the day will go and who will be with her. If she knows what to expect, it may help ease anxiety if you have to leave for the hospital abruptly or in the middle of the night.
3. Make sure a trusted network of care is in place
Your older child with special needs may already be involved in respite care or an early childhood education program, but the introduction of a new baby may require extended care beyond what you already have in place. If this is the case, make sure you start the change of care for your older child before the baby arrives to help ease the transition. Don’t be afraid to accept and ask for help. It is important to have a trusted network of family, friends and professional care providers in place to provide extra, and in some cases last minute, help.
4. Spend special time alone with your older child
While it will be important to plan events as a family, continue to reserve special time alone with your older child. Setting aside time to spend with just her will help remind her that she is important and ease potential worry that she will be forgotten or replaced. It could be as simple as reserving an hour to work on her favorite craft at home, or spending the day going to an event or visiting one of her favorite places.
5. Be prepared to maintain a schedule with flexibility
Having an infant requires a feeding and sleeping schedule, but having a child with special needs requires the ability to quickly react to unpredictable situations, especially if the child is medically fragile.
To help your older child understand the new baby’s schedule, include her during feeding and snuggle time and explain that the new baby needs to eat and sleep often to be healthy and grow. Likewise, it’s important to recognize that every member of the family has to be ready to attend to the special needs of your older child if a situation arises, even if it disrupts the baby’s schedule.
It is important to remember that, even though your older child may be resistant to change or feel possessive of your attention, she will adjust to your expanding family. Though it may take her a little bit more time, your guidance and patience will help her experience all the joy that a new sibling can bring.