Welcoming a new baby gives parents a lot to think about. If you’re new parents, with your first child you’ll be working out how to raise and care for your little one. But with your second child, you’ll have a slightly different focus. In the minds of many parents, a big concern is how the older sibling will react to a younger brother or sister, and whether they will get on. Parents are often anxious about whether the older sibling might feel neglected once there’s a new baby on the scene who requires a lot of attention. These are all genuine concerns. The good news is that with a little bit of preparation, you can help make sure that both children feel loved and give their relationship a great start.
In this first part we’re focusing on how to prepare the older sibling for the arrival of the new baby. In future articles, we will focus on how to introduce the new baby to their sibling after birth and how to help them adjust to each other as the new baby settles in.
How can I prepare my older child for a new sibling?
How to prepare the older sibling really depends on their age. Here’s a few age specific tips:
- Very young children (around 1-2 years old) can struggle to understand the concept of having a new brother or sister. They often think of themselves as the baby and not really understand what is going to happen. By using books that have pictures of babies in, you can gradually try to introduce them to the new concept and words such as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’.
- Preschool children (around 2-4 years old) are more likely to understand the concept of a baby and sibling but may find the idea of a new brother or sister uncomfortable, threatening their close bond with their parents. Reading to your older child about babies, brothers and sisters can be helpful. Also consider involving your older child in preparation for the new baby, such as shopping for cots, toys, and clothes together.
- School-age children may not appear to have as strong a reaction to the idea of a new baby brother or sister as a younger child. However, they’re likely to wonder about whether the baby will get more attention and whether they will be cared about as much. Making effort to care about the older sibling’s activities and interests is crucial even as the birth approaches.
While precisely how you prepare the older sibling does depend on their age, there are also some general ideas that can be useful.
Don’t wait too long to tell your child.
There’s always a bit of parental anxiety around the pregnancy and birth of a new child. There will also be changes to behaviour which your child will notice. Maybe seeing their mum experiencing morning sickness or finding that they can’t jump around with her quite like before will be noticeable. Therefore, psychologists advise that it is generally best to start communicating with your child sooner rather than later. There will be many questions that need answering, so having a long time for all of them to be discussed properly is important.
Be realistic about the challenges.
Telling the older child that the new sibling is just a new playmate is only going to make them think that the new baby is a toy and when there’s difficulties it’ll be hard for them to cope. Emphasising the positives is important, but so is realistically having (age appropriate) conversations about the fact that the new baby is going to be a lot of work and that sometimes they will cry and need feeding.
Establish a routine.
Children thrive on routines and although it may sound like a challenge when a new birth is on the horizon, a solid routine is essential for the older sibling to feel a sense of security. Playtime and reading with your older child are so important, so try to find set times and try your best to maintain them. Older siblings will feel valued when they realise that parents have protected and prioritised their time together.
We hope this article helps you as you experience what is undoubtedly an exciting time. Older siblings need to feel cared about and the fact you are researching this shows how much you care. Keep an eye out for future articles that will discuss further how you can introduce your older child to your new baby, and more.