You’re having another one? Congratulations! A new baby joining the family is an incredibly joyous occasion - but one that also presents challenges. You’ll be super excited about your new arrival, but also nervous about how their older sibling will react. This reaction is notorious, but fear not. There are many ways to ease into this transition to keep jealousy and confusion at bay. Use these 10 steps to prepare your child for a new sibling.
1. Timing Matters
Deciding exactly when to break the news of the new arrival to your child is probably the first step you need to consider. Given that the baby won’t actually appear until a long nine months after you learn of the good news, timing is extremely important. Age should play a key role in this decision. If your child is still a toddler, for example, then there isn’t the same pressure to begin talking about their new sibling from as early on as there is if they’re, say, 10 years old. That being said, it’s always best to be the one to break the news. You don’t want your daughter or son to hear about your pregnancy in passing, even if they are too young to fully understand. This could lead to anxiety or trust issues. Also be aware that if your child is slightly older, then telling them is essentially telling their school friends, teachers etc. The news will travel fast and wide!
2. Picture It
Simply announcing to your child that you’ll be having a baby isn’t enough. At their young age, the idea is far too abstract and unrelatable. Help prepare them by using visual aids such as videos and books, or even a real live baby if you have a friend or family member who has recently given birth. The more your child can actually see and get a feeling for what’s on the way, the easier it will be for them to adapt. Another option is to play with a baby doll, and introduce your child to certain aspects of a baby’s routine - feeding, sleeping, changing nappies etc. and generally being mindful of its presence.
3. Maintain Stability
Welcoming a new baby is a huge transition, not only for children but for the entire family! Adults can adapt to changes far easier than children, however, so try and limit any unnecessary changes to their routine in the weeks leading up to the birth, and immediately afterward. Even seemingly innocuous changes like a new bed or new potty can be difficult to handle, so presenting these challenges to them on top of the overwhelming change of the new arrival should be avoided. Children generally thrive on stability and structure, so keeping this period as dull and predictable as possible is actually the best thing you can do! If you do need to make changes around the house in preparation, consider making these early on.
4. Prep Them For The Birth
No, your child won’t be present at the birth. Well, it’s highly unlikely anyway! But whether you’re opting for a home birth or a hospital visit, consider who will be looking after your child when the time comes and make sure they’re super comfortable with that person. It’s a good idea to arrange extra time for them together in the lead up to your birth, so that the moment won’t feel too overwhelming. Bedtime routines, preferred activities, snacks of choice - these are all things that your chosen babysitter can get familiar with. You could even suggest the two of them act out the day of the birth, to try and prepare your child as best you can.
5. Don’t Force The ‘Older Sibling’
Even though they may no longer technically be your baby, this doesn’t mean your child will want to relinquish that role. Adopting the position of ‘older sibling’ all of a sudden won’t come naturally, and expecting them to do this can have negative consequences. It’s also important to understand that the soon-to-be older sibling shouldn’t be expected to help with the baby or grow up before their time. Ultimately, they are still a child, and any transition towards embracing the role of ‘older sibling’ should happen organically.
6. Embrace Negativity
This sounds counterintuitive, but resisting negative feelings your child may express towards their new baby brother or sister won’t be helpful. It’s a challenge you may well face - and it’s certainly not easy - but forcing your child to suppress their feelings of anger, jealousy etc. and convincing them that they actually adore their new position in the family can make them feel like there’s something wrong with them. This can be extremely damaging. If your child is forced to internalize their negative feelings, they’ll simply be expressed subconsciously rather than consciously, and manifest in rage, violence, or feelings of inadequacy. It’s important to remember that you don’t actually have to deal with their bad feelings towards the baby - you just have to empathize with them.
7. Anticipate Backward Steps
It’s completely normal for your child to regress while they come to terms with the new family arrival. Depending on their age, you might notice them taking backward steps in their potty training, language or behavior. Whilst this will be frustrating, it is simply their way of asking you whether they’re still your baby. Make a point to reassure them on a regular occasion that yes, they are still - and always will be - your baby!
8. Don’t Use The Label
Labels like ‘big brother’ or ‘big sister’ already come loaded with preconceptions. Try and avoid using these on your child, and instead let them develop their own, unique relationship with their new sibling. Often, these labels are associated with tasks - ‘big sisters love to help’, for example, which may backfire and lead your child to resent said tasks.
9. More Is Less
A common mistake made by expecting parents is to ration their time and affection towards their child, so as to prepare them for the transition they’ll soon face. While there is logic in this, it’s not entirely compatible with a young brain, and could backfire, Instead, shower them with love and build that bond ever stronger, so that when the change of the new arrival does happen, they’ll be confident that this is just a temporary change and they’ve no need to worry.
10. You, Yes You!
Last but not least, think about yourself! Practicing self-care during this transition is extremely important and will affect how your child handles the situation. If you’re calm, rested and feel positive about things, the feelings will be contagious.