You’ve just got the hang of one child when you decide it’s time for your little one to have a brother or a sister. One day, hopefully, your older child or children will appreciate fully having a brother or a sister but it’s getting them used to the idea which will help them adapt to the change in their little life which will make all the difference to an easier pathway for you and your family.
Some children just simply don’t bat an eyelid. I know of one child who spent the first year of his baby sister’s life completely ignoring her existence. He would step over her as if she were a piece of furniture (he was only 17 months when she was born) – it didn’t faze him whatsoever, some may think it was his way of dealing with it, but he is simply a very relaxed and laid back child, confident in his own skin. He only started taking notice of her when she could “do” things and engage with him – today, age 6 and 4.5 years respectively they are delightful playmates.
Of course – you may say that the closer together they are, the easier the transition for the older child. This much is true, even if the beginning of life with two very young children is a little challenging for you as a parent, the fact is, the older child will never remember life without his/her little brother/sister. So while having children close together brings its own challenges, it also brings its rewards!
So older children do “feel” it more, we’ve established that much. When a new baby arrives, much of the parents’ energy is focused on meeting the newborn’s needs and it is common for them to feel jealousy and sometimes, act on it. Preparing your child for a pending arrival is a good start.
You can begin by telling them about what pregnancy is and your own pregnancy, obviously use the simplest terms that they will understand and let them be involved. Ask them about name choices, ask their opinion, and let them help with getting prepared. This means – what do they think about the nursery decoration? Can they help wash and fold the new baby’s clothes? Get them to practise on a doll (the girls particularly love that! Although not limited to just the girls…)
Other things you can do is go through your older child’s baby photographs with them, show them how much they have grown, how they are the “big girl” or “big boy” grown up enough to help mummy and daddy and help their little brother or sister grow. Before birth, take your child to visit friends or family with babies and help them interact and look after. Take them to some of your antenatal appointments and perhaps let them see a scan or the heartbeat. The key here is to keep them involved, not hide the pregnancy away so they have no idea why your tummy is getting bigger. The one thing you don’t want to do is give them a shock with one day a big tummy and the next a tiny baby in the house!
As the time gets nearer, tell them about what is going to happen when you go to the hospital to have the baby – so if they are spending the day/night with a grandparent or a friend, let them know well in advance and even help them pack a little overnight bag with their own creature comforts.
If you are moving your older child to a new bedroom from the nursery do this with plenty of time before the birth, so they don’t feel pushed out. Make sure they are very settled in their new bedroom well before the new arrival and let them choose their decoration themselves (with a little help from you where necessary!)
Don’t introduce new routines, so for example, if you have a 2 year old with a pending new arrival do not start potty training. Put these tasks off until after a new baby has been at home for a while and once your older child is used to the changes around them.
When a new baby is at home with you, get your older child involved. They can help with feeding, changing, fetching bits and pieces for you – anything that makes them feel “useful”, “needed”, “grown up” will help with the adjustment and also make sure they know the new baby is as much for them as possible. Another nice tip is to ask your older child for their advice, for example: “What shall your sister/brother wear today? Do you like the pink one or the yellow one?” Again, some children just have no interest but do not worry about this, it will change.
One very important point is to make sure you do spend time with your older child, so set aside special time where you can do something together like baking or playing a favourite game, or even taking them to the playground – anything that they enjoy doing with just you.
Don’t talk about the new baby all the time. This can be done so innocently but can affect another sibling. Remember that when they are in earshot, talk about plenty of other topics as well. You can also take some time to ask them how they are feeling about the new baby. Be aware of their feelings and don’t be surprised if they start testing you, if they do act up don’t forget to understand what may be the reasons behind the tantrums or boundary pushing. You could find that your older child has been very excited about a new baby but when it happens they react completely out of character. This is often the case with more sensitive children and they may well regress and try for your attention especially when you are breast feeding or changing a nappy for example. You may see behaviour such as hitting, pulling or taking toys away from the baby. Tell your child you want them to be gentle, explain it can help and warn them not to do it again – but do this nicely.
Don’t forget there are plenty of excellent books on this topic for you to read with your child – do have a look in your local bookshop or online.
One thing is for sure; your older child will adjust to a new baby but be prepared for it to take a little time. For more information you can contact Alyson Shannon, Child Expert on 020 8958 6630.