Before deciding to try for a second baby and throughout your pregnancy, you will have worried and you will worry about how your older child will react and cope with the new baby. There is no way of knowing how your child will react and each child will react in a different way. For some, the new baby will be embraced and loved with open arms and there will be no or very little jealousy. However, some children will find the whole experience very difficult.
Many parents find it difficult to understand why the arrival of a new sibling can cause so much distress to their older child; however, if your partner suddenly brought home a new partner and said, ‘I love you so very much that I have gone out and got another partner who is going to join the family and live with us and share all your things!’, how would you feel? How would you react? This is a useful way of looking at the situation to understand how your child is feeling.
It is important to remember that although a new baby in the family could be one of the toughest things your child will have to deal with, it may eventually be one of the greatest gifts you can give them.
What you can do to help
It is important that you talk to your child throughout your pregnancy.
• Make sure you tell your child that there will be a baby. It is best to tell your child before you start telling family and friends. Your child needs to hear it from you and not from someone else. Answer any questions your child has. Remember: you do not need to tell your child everything about pregnancy and childbirth, keep it honest, age appropriate and simple.
• If possible, visit friends who have new or young babies.
• Read books to your child that are about pregnancy, birth, newborns, siblings. Visit your local library or bookshop to ask for suggestions. Talk about the books together.
• Look at the baby photographs of your older child. Tell your child how excited you were and how everyone wanted to see them, hold them and how happy everyone was.
• Take your child to an antenatal appointment and listen to the heartbeat together.
• If you are planning on both your children sharing a room, set up the room, before the baby arrives. You do not want to have too many changes at once. Let your older child get used to the new arrangement. This is also the same if you are planning on placing your older child into childcare or nursery. You do not want your child to feel that they are being ‘sent away’ because of the new baby.
• Involve your child with preparing for the new baby: let you child choose baby’s first outfit, bibs, changing mat, clothes etc. If your child is not old enough to choose from a large selection, pick two that you like and let them pick from those options.
• Tell your child that you will need help when the baby is here. Show him where you are going to keep the muslin cloths and explain that if the baby is a little sick, that it will be their job to run and get a cloth.
• Involve your child as much as possible.
• Make sure your child is ready for the birth. Where are they staying if you are going to hospital? Help them get excited about going to Nanny’s or Auntie Sue’s for the night. Pack their overnight bag at the same time as yours and keep both of them together by the door.
What can I do to help after the baby is here?
• Try and make sure that you are not holding the baby when you first see your older child after the birth. Try and put the baby down.
• Have a gift to give to the older child from the new baby. Depending on the age of the older child, you may want your child to give the baby a gift too.
• As guests arrive to visit the new baby, remind them to talk to your older child and to not ignore them.
• Let your older child help you to open the presents for the new baby. Try and encourage close family to buy your child a small gift when they visit too or have a bag of small gift such as a car or bubbles or a book to give to your child if you feel he is not getting enough attention.
• Make your child the baby’s hero. As the new baby grows, they will have instinctive, built in love for their older sibling, however at this stage, it is up to you to make sure you child knows how much the baby loves them. Telling your child that you hope the baby will grow to be just like you and as good as you are all good ways of encouraging your child to be a good role model for their new sibling.
• If your child wants to help, let them help.
• Set aside time that is special for just you and your older child. Ask your child what they want to do. Make this time happy.
• Make sure your older child has their own space. Somewhere that they can keep the things that do not need to be shared with the baby.
How to cope with their behaviour
It is very important that your child knows that hurting the baby is not allowed. If your child has aggression or unkind feelings toward the baby, create ways of extracting the behaviour though talking, games or drawing.
If your older child wants to be ‘babied’, let them. Give them cuddles and keep them close. Try and tell your child how being a ‘big boy/girl’ is so much more fun. Maybe they can choose what is for dinner or where to go for the day.
Try and find a family member or close friend to come and help. You need to give undivided attention to both children.
It is important that your child realises what sort of behaviour is unacceptable. You still need to be ‘in charge’. Keep all your boundaries and rules that you had before baby arrived. Add new ones if necessary.
Book ideas to help with the arrival of a new baby
- There’s a House Inside My Mummy by Giles Andreae and Vanessa Caban
- Froggy’s Baby Sister by Jonathan London
- The New Baby by Mercer Mayer
- My New Baby by Rachel Fuller
- The New Baby by Anna Civardi
- Topsy and Tim: The New Baby by Jean Adamson
- A New Baby Is Coming! by Emily Menendez-Aponte
- I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole
- I’m Going to Be a Big Sister! by Brenda Bercun
- I’m Important Too!: A New Baby by Jen Green
- Hello Baby by Jenni Overend