It's the age old conundrum – how to prepare your child for the arrival of a new baby brother or sister. Whatever their age and character, they will each react differently to the changing dynamics a new born brings to the family.
With your first baby, the focus is very much on learning how to be a parent and to care for a little person who is so totally dependent on you for their every need. It is a steep learning curve and with the arrival of a second and possibly very different natured baby, your parental development will continue.
So the additional focus, when number two arrives home, is how to prepare and deal with number one’s reaction to a new sibling. You are unlikely to be able to satisfy the needs of both children all the time, especially by yourself, so ask for help from partners, family and friends and use your support network so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
Here we share some tips from mums and dads with varied experiences preparing their children for the brave new world of siblings, bearing in mind children of different ages will react differently to a new baby !
Toddlers aged 1-2 years
Toddlers particularly, are more likely to find it difficult to adjust, having had the undivided attention of mum, dad, grandparents and anyone who is anyone in their lives. It can be unsettling for them and they are unlikely to understand what it means to have a new baby brother or sister. They will however feel your excitement and that will transfer to them especially if you look at new baby picture books with them and use words like new baby, brother and sister so they become second nature.
When the baby actually arrives do something special with them and reassure them constantly. A gift, an outing together or just time alone with dad, mum or grandparents will help them to feel they are not losing out to the new arrival.
Try where possible to stick to established routines, whether going to a playgroup or visiting friends and always make time at the end of the day for a bedtime story together. Relatives can help out, but your child will need one-to-one time with you so they don’t feel as if they have been forgotten. They may be more demanding and need more attention particularly during feeds. This is a particularly difficult time for a toddler and they may feel jealous and resentful especially if mum is breast feeding, so try and distract them before the actual feed and tell a story or have a chat during the feed itself.
Pre-school aged 2-4 years
At this age, a child is very attached to mum and dad and the prospect of sharing you both with others is beyond their comprehension. They can feel threatened by a new arrival and be very sensitive to change, so the task is to make them feel part of the daily routine and assume the role of a big, brother or sister.
Choose the right moment to explain to your toddler about the new baby growing inside mum’s tummy. Take them shopping with you for baby items from nursery furniture to baby clothes. Buy them a new doll so that they can begin to look after their baby in preparation for the arrival of the real thing.
Prepare them for your time in hospital and explain that you will be away for a while but will come back with the new baby in a few days. If possible take some of the mystery away by taking your child to the hospital or birthing centre so that they can see where you will be when you are away from them for the actual birth. If you are staying in for more than 24 hours, make sure they visit you and the new baby and have time for hospital cuddles before they return home. Explain that the baby will not always be cute and cuddly but will cry and take a lot of your time and attention but always reassure them that whatever baby’s demands, you will always love them just as much as before.
Children don’t always love babies but they do find them interesting, so once home, turn looking after them into a fun game. Encourage your child to help with changing the nappies, talking to the baby, and generally engaging in the care of this tiny addition to the family.
Talk to them about what they were like as babies, showing them photographs and getting out all their old baby toys which, as very generous big brothers and sisters, they will be able to share with their siblings.
Put off any major changes to their routine until the new baby is settled. Try and get them potty trained and make the switch from cot to bed before the new arrival comes home. If that proves difficult, delay it until the new baby is settled as your older child will struggle to learn new things while coping with the changes to their world with a new baby in the house.
They may also show some regressive behaviour but this is normal and is your child’s way of making sure he still has your love and attention. An older child may ask for a bottle, want to be carried or start bed wetting again even if they are toilet trained, so be prepared for this and don’t punish them. Praise them when they start showing more grown-up behaviour.
School aged children 5 and upwards
At this age children do not feel as threatened by a new born baby but they still may get a bit resentful and jealous about the attention their new sibling is getting.
The advice is much the same as for younger children – make sure they feel involved in the care of their new brother or sister and don’t overlook their individual needs, always making one-to-one time for them.
A new sibling has a big impact on the family but anticipating any potential issues is the first step towards the development of a healthy bond between your new born and your older child and to embracing life as a family of four.
Good Luck !