Introducing a new baby into a well-functioning family dynamic can be tricky. Sister Burgie Ireland shares some tried-and-tested methods for smooth integration.
You may be excited about having another baby, but how well will your child react to a brother or sister? Your child’s age and personality will determine how well she adapts to the new addition, so take these into consideration when determining how best to break the news and make sure she still feels loved and wanted while fostering a strong bond between siblings.
Introducing your firstborn to baby number two
Family circumstances will affect how well your child adjusts. If, for example, you have recently divorced and remarried, your child may find it more difficult to adapt to yet another major change. Toddlers up to the age of three don’t understand the implications of a sibling, the preschooler will expect an instant playmate, and teenagers, even if they’re happy about the news, may become frustrated by their mom’s pregnancy and a crying baby.
Breaking the news
Make it a celebration! Go out for a meal, which not only puts the family in a celebratory mood, but you’ll also have the chance to discuss where and when the baby will be born. It helps when siblings are the first to hear the good news. Let your child suggest where the baby will sleep and what she can do to help.
Your child also needs to know who will look after her while you are in hospital, and what to expect when the baby comes home. Be honest about the fact that things are going to change for your child, but focus on the positive aspects of having a sibling.
Tips and advice to introduce your new baby to siblings:
When siblings are:
It’s hard work having a baby and a toddler. They’re both demanding and each has their own set of physical and emotional needs. A small age gap (especially when siblings are the same sex) can cause sibling rivalry as they grow older.
As toddlers are impatient little people with no sense of time, wait until your growing belly provokes questions before telling your toddler about the baby.
A new baby can clash with your toddler’s feeding, sleep and potty-training routine, which can result in regression. Wait for signs of readiness, or at least until your toddler has accepted the new baby, before making any changes to her schedule. This also applies to moving your toddler from her cot into a bed. She may feel that the baby is taking her place, so be prepared for lapses if your toddler is potty trained or sleeping through the night.
Toddlers like to copy their parents. When you come home from the hospital, bring her a doll or a teddy bear as a gift from the baby and make a place for her ‘baby’ to sleep.
Make sure your toddler gets plenty of attention when you have visitors – when your baby and toddler both need your attention, try to see to your toddler’s needs first.
Get a storybook about siblings from the library or bookshop. Doris Brett’s book, Annie Stories, has some great ideas and advice for you, too.
Preschoolers are extremely perceptive. If you’re sneaking pregnancy tests and spending your mornings with your head in the toilet, your child may worry that there is something wrong with you – so don’t wait to tell her the news.
Children over the age of three have had the advantage of your undivided attention during their formative years. A preschooler has her own friends, so she’s not dependent on a sibling for a soulmate. There will be times when your children are the best of friends, but expect clashes when your older child is developmentally ‘constructive’ and the younger child is still ‘destructive’.
Preschoolers are generally curious – especially about babies. Be prepared for some intense questions about the facts of life. The best way to handle this is to simply answer your child with honest answers in small doses. There’s no need to go into detail about sex, sperm or fertilisation – unless your child specifically asks.
Older children often secretly long for (or nag you for) a brother or a sister. However, a baby in the house can be a novelty that soon wears off – especially when the baby gets all the attention. Your child may feel that her space and privacy has been invaded, and when she is expected to understand that the baby comes first, it could make her resentful.
To avoid jealousy, always make your child feel loved, special and important. Keep your child involved in the pregnancy by bringing her along to scans and allowing her to choose furniture and baby equipment.
A pregnancy book with pictures and information about the baby’s growth and development, such as A Child is Born by Lennart Nilsson and Lars Hamberger, can help turn the experience into a learning and bonding opportunity for you and your child.
If you don’t have enough room for a separate nursery, make a private space for your older child. Give her a desk, some shelves and cupboard space where her things won’t be tampered with when the baby grows into a toddler.
12 years and older
Having a baby in the house is the best sex education for teenagers. It makes them aware of costs, responsibility, doctor’s visits, hospitals and the 24-hour demands of a new baby. Teenagers can be great babysitters and, as they probably won’t be jealous of the attention a new baby gets, they can be protective and supportive towards a younger sibling.
Here are some more ideas for introducing your first child to your second (or third). If you have a blended family, with step children or children from your previous relationship, use the same strategies:
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