Transition: From An Only Child To An Older Sibling

While adding a new member of the family is exciting, it also means that change will be the only constant for the unforeseen future. As a Mother trying to learn the balance between taking care of a newborn, your first born and yourself… sometimes we forget that our oldest children are also going through a similar transition. Suddenly losing the only child status and becoming the “big” sibling over night can be confusing and frustrating, which can be an emotional struggle.

I made a promise to myself, and my first born, 3 years old, that adding a little sister to our family would be a great experience for everyone. During the first couple days with our new baby girl, I noticed my older daughter acting out, whining, and resisting me when I tried to talk to her. I realized that I was not upholding my end of the bargain and I needed to make some quick changes to ensure this transition became a smooth one.

I did some extensive research and tried many different “mom approved tips & tricks” to ease the transition from an only child to an older sibling. Below is a list of what really seemed to work for our family.


Open Communication

Once a day, if not more, I make sure to find time for a one on one conversation with my three year old. I ask how she’s feeling, what the best part of the day is, if she is enjoying being a big sister, and the like. I also ask her what things are bothering her. It’s really helpful for me to understand what the hardest part of her transition is. Most of the time, she answers with problems that are super critical for a three year old – her doll’s dress broke, she can’t find one of her toys or she wasn’t super thrilled about the lunch menu. However, occasionally, she will say something like, “Sissy’s crying is really loud.” When she gives me these indicators, I try to empathize with her and help her understand why sissy is crying.

Create Responsibility

One of the biggest ways I eased the transition was by making certain responsibilities specific to my three year old. This has given Harleigh a sense of inclusion, rather than separation. Anytime the newborn needs a diaper change, I ask Harleigh to help by getting the diaper and wipes – I even keep them in her room so she feels like she is the only one in charge of this task. When baby cries, I’ll ask what she thinks baby needs and let her help out. She also helps by singing to baby when she’s unsettled, picking out her outfits for the day and telling her stories when its time to fall asleep.

Having specific jobs has helped so much that Harleigh has started calling the newborn “her baby.” When she cries, Harleigh will say, “Oh! I think my baby is hungry!” It is incredibly sweet to see how serious she takes her new role as a Big Sister.

Give Praise From Baby

It’s so fun to see how Harleigh lights up when she does something and I say, “Kennedy, did you see what your Big Sister did?! That’s really awesome isn’t it?!” She feels so proud to do things that impress her new little sis. Harleigh will even ask me to turn Kennedy’s face toward her so her little sister can watch her do things. I constantly tell baby how lucky she is to have such an amazing big sister – I immediately noticed Harleigh standing a little taller around the house 🙂

This has even been a great tactic to help Harleigh eat dinner. I’ll say, “Hey Kennedy, watch your Big Sister take a bite of her baby trees (broccoli) and Harleigh jumps at the opportunity to show off to her little sis and gobble up her dinner.

Quality Time

Luckily, I have an amazing partner who is extremely helpful with our newborn. He offers to take care of baby for the night so I can spend some much needed quality time with our older daughter. The time spent together doesn’t need to be anything outrageous, even routines you did together prior to baby arriving indicates that you are still there for them. We have a bed time ritual where I get Harleigh ready for bed and lay down with her to read whatever book she chooses for the night. I find this time important to be uninterrupted so I can completely focus on only her.

It’s also great, if you are able, to find help a couple times during the week where you get out of the house with only your oldest child. Whether it be to go grocery shopping or something more exciting like going to the park. A few hours a week spending time with just you two is extremely beneficial to keep your mom bond strong.

Baby Doesn’t Always Come First

It’s easy to see the advantages of being a newborn, as Harleigh constantly has to be patient while I tend to her younger sister. I’ve found it helpful to verbalize to Harleigh that sometimes baby has to wait too. When I am helping Harleigh with something, I’ll say things like “Sorry Kennedy, we’ll have to change your diaper (even if it doesn’t really need to be changed) after I help Harleigh.” Or, “Kennedy, it’s Harleighs turn right now, I will be with you when we are done.”

Anything that you can come up with to indicate to your oldest that the baby hasn’t taken over as the most important child, will be well received. Also, when there is an immediate need with baby, explain why you need to focus on baby to help them understand why your attention is being redirected.

Highlight The Advantages Of Being Older

This last trick is super helpful in empowering your oldest. When they are going through a transition like this, all the awesome things they are able to do may not be immediately obvious. Harleigh likes to hear the benefits of being the older child. By helping her realize that she can do things the baby can’t, she regains her excitement to be the “big girl.”

I make it a point to identify the fun things that Harleigh gets to do. When we take her swimming or to the park, I’ll remind her that little sissy can’t swim or go on the slide yet because she’s too little, but Harleigh can because she’s bigger. If I take her to get a special treat, like Fro-Yo, I say, “You can have ice cream because you’re a big girl, but sister can’t have this yet.” Harleigh has also started to point out what things only she is able to do. By helping her understand that there are many limitations to being little, she has realized that she would rather be bigger – even if that means some of my attention is taken away.

Bringing a new baby into the family can be a challenging transition for everyone. It is even more difficult with an upset, resistant older sibling. By making some simple changes to how you communicate and interact with your oldest, you’ll have much better luck getting them on your team rather than fighting for your attention.

Every family is entirely different. There is no quick solve that will completely eliminate all issues, but hopefully these tricks will help make the transition easier for you. If you have found some other things that work well, I’d love to hear about them!


Best of luck!

– Mama of Roses –

One thought on “Transition: From An Only Child To An Older Sibling

  1. Awesome read. More importantly, awesome mommy for doing her research and making sure Harleigh stays involved and feels important in her daily baby task. Good job Mama of Roses.

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