When a new baby arrives in the family, everybody needs adjustments.
Good preparation for siblings makes things go smoothly.
Tell the other children early that there might be a new baby one day.
Being involved at early stages helps other children to adjust.
Once the baby is on the way
Make this an exciting time. Positively involve the other children. Ask their opinion of things concerning the baby. Let them help to choose some of the toys, clothes etc. Let them take part in decorating the baby’s room. Let them help to choose the baby’s name. Finally, let them help to choose the clothing for the baby’s homecoming.
Show children the pictures of ultrasound. Let them feel the kicks. Encourage them to listen to the heartbeat—baby hears in the womb and recognise different sounds. So sing songs together to the baby and let them choose some music to play to the baby.
If you can, and the children are allowed, bring them to visits to the doctor or other prenatal checkups.
Talk to the other children about how they were babies. Look together with the baby photos of the older siblings. Preferably these pictures should be about the care and loving interactions such as when they were held, hugged, kissed, fed and bathed.
Have a photo of the older siblings as babies in the children’s eye level in the baby’s room.
If the children want, they can help prepare the baby announcements and draw pictures on the cards.
When the baby has arrived
Have a celebratory meal and birthday cake for the baby’s homecoming.
For younger children, provide a baby doll to take care of their ‘baby’.
Children can have a myriad of feelings about a new sibling.
They can feel
- Excited about somebody to play with and take care of.
- Disappointed, the baby might be different from what they thought the baby would be like.
- Upset because that they might need to share the attention.
- Jealousy because everybody pays so much attention to the new baby.
- They might feel less important than the baby.
- Excluded because you do not have as much time with them as you used to have.
- Annoyed because the baby could cry a great deal.
Accept and acknowledge these feelings. However, be firm that they have to behave gently and safely around the baby.
Keep the children’s routines the same as what was before the baby arrived. If you have to make changes, make them gradually.
Show how children can play safely with the baby. Give them small responsibilities, such as pushing the pram or helping you with the nappy in nappy change. The older children can help to burp, dress and feed the baby. Let the children hold the baby supervised.
Let them play with the baby, for example, peek at a poo or reading a book. When they do this, give them praise to be such a good big brother or a sister. Try not to use phrases that say, ‘don’t do this’,’ ‘don’t touch’, but use the word ‘gently’ instead and show how.
When people come to visit the new baby, encourage them to pay attention and support other children. Ask them to greet the older children first before seeing the new baby. Then, let the older children show the new baby to the visitor.
When visitors bring presents for the baby, if you have a chance to talk to the visitor, ask if they could get something small for the older children as well. If they haven’t, have a stash of some small things to give to the older children.
How to help the older child to adjust to the baby
Some children regress with things such as toileting, eating and sleeping. Do not scold the children. Instead, reassure the children and emphasise the actions of being a ‘big brother’ or ‘big sister’.
Praise and reward the positive behaviour with some activity of children’s choosing, such as extra time in the park, bike ride, ice cream from the coffee shop etc. Use a task chart with stars to encourage positive ‘big child’ behaviour.
Reinforce for the older children that they are special too. Give them special privileges and particular jobs because of their seniority. Remember to give them praise when they have done good work or behaved well. Tell them how proud you are of them.
Purchase small gifts for the older children as rewards now and then.
Spend time alone with your older children daily; this could be at bedtime to read a book.
Work around so that one parent should have a planned weekly one-on-one time without the baby and other siblings in the park, coffee shop, or doing some other outdoor activity away from home.
The children need your reassurance of how much you love them daily with small words, gestures, touch, and hugs. Look for ways to make the other children feel special. Praise them daily for their achievements.
Allow and encourage them to express their feelings, good or bad, verbally, or they don’t want to talk about it, ask them to draw or model it with playdough, play music, drum or some other creative expression. Or play it out in the sand.
At the mealtimes, encourage the talk about what has happened during the day and how they felt about it.
Listen to your children without interruption.
If you are a step-parent, you might notice that you are distancing yourself a little from your stepchildren and get very absorbed with your baby. That is a natural behaviour. Try to give daily your stepchildren some attention, hugs and some loving words.