Preparing siblings

The arrival of a new baby can bring many changes to a family. Parents spend a lot of energy on preparations, and after the baby arrives, much of the family's attention involves caring for the newborn.

All this change can be hard for older siblings to handle. It's common for them to feel jealousy toward the newborn and to react to the upheaval by acting out.

But parents can prepare kids for an addition to the family. Discussing the pregnancy in terms that make sense to kids, making some arrangements, and including kids in the care of the newborn can make things easier for everyone.

During pregnancy

To tell a child about an impending sibling. Siblings that are pre school age  may not grasp concepts of time, so it might not mean much if you say that the baby will arrive in a few months. It may be more useful to explain that the baby will arrive in a particular season, such as winter or when it's cold outside.

How much detail should you provide? Let your child's questions be your guide. For example, a 4-year-old child may ask: "Where do babies come from?" Despite how it sounds, the child isn't asking you to explain sex but probably wants to know where, literally, they come from. It may be enough to explain: "The baby comes from mummy’s tummy” A child who wants to know more will ask.

If your child shows more interest in the baby, you can encourage that by:

  • going through your child's baby pictures
  • reading books about childbirth (make sure they're age-appropriate)
  • visiting friends who have infants
  • packing a bag for the hospital
  • thinking of potential baby names
  • going to the doctor to hear the baby's heartbeat

Bringing the new baby home

Once the baby is home, you can help your other children adjust to the changes. Include them as much as possible in the daily activities involving the baby so that they don't feel left out.

Many children want to help take care of a new baby. Though that "help" may mean that each task takes longer, it can give an older child a chance to interact with the baby in a positive way. Depending on their age, a big brother or sister may want to entertain the baby during a nappy change, help push the pram, talk to the baby, or help dress, bathe the baby.

If your child expresses no interest in the baby, don't be alarmed and don't force it. It can take time.

Some occasions, like breastfeeding, excludes older kids. For these times, try to have toys on hand so that you can feed the baby without being interrupted or worrying about an older child feeling left out.

Take advantage of chances for one-on-one time with older kids. Spend time together while the baby is sleeping and, if possible, set aside time each day for older kids to get one parent's undivided attention. Knowing that there's special time just for them may help ease any resentment or anger about the new baby.

Also remind relatives and friends that your older child might want to talk about something other than the new baby. If relatives or friends ask how they can help, suggest a fun activity or something special for the older child.

Continue to send your older child to childcare or to school, if you're able. It's normal to feel guilty about sending your older child away since now you're home with the new baby (and if you're home, you might feel that everyone should be). But keeping normal routines is helpful for siblings. This time can give you precious one-on-one time with the baby that you might not otherwise have. When your older child comes home from childcare or school, plan for some quality family time.

Dealing with feelings

With all of the changes that a new baby can bring, some older kids might struggle as they try to adjust.

Encourage older children to talk about their feelings about the new baby. If a child cannot express those feelings, don't be surprised if he or she tests limits or reverts to speaking in baby talk.

If your child acts up, don't bend the rules, but understand what feelings may be motivating that behavior. It could be a sign that your child needs more one-on-one time with you, but make it clear that although his or her feelings are important, they have to be expressed in appropriate ways.