As many of you know, I’m soon to be expecting a new baby into my little family, and so I’ve enlisted the help and advice of the wonderful Claire Burgess – Family consultant from Bespoke Family Bespokefamily.co.uk / @bespokefamily. Claire has written this wonderful blog about introducing a second sibling into a family – I hope it’ll be helpful to many of you.
I’ve already written about the first part of my pregnancy and the struggles I had, including guilt towards Raffy for changing his like. That’s gone now and I’m able to look forward to this new chapter, but claire’s advice and support really helped.
How to prepare before the birth
Before baby has even arrived, it is a good idea to help siblings to start ‘bonding’ with your baby bump. Let them feel their baby brother or sister moving and encourage them to talk, read or sing to the baby. Use this time as an opportunity to explain to the children what is happening.
You may need to be prepared (depending on the age of your child) for questions about how the baby will come out (or how the baby got into your tummy!). Don’t be caught off guard with this. It is good to be prepared and clear in advance about what you are going to answer in response to these questions.
You may see some regression
Avoid keeping on saying “you are going to be a big brother or sister soon”. As this can sometime make them feel like they don’t want to be one! It can also mean that they say things like “I don’t want to be big, I want to be a baby” as they can sense the change coming, but don’t always know how to feel. For some children you may see regression in some behaviours. For example wanting to be carried or fed by you or they might talk in a ‘baby voice’. This is all their way of showing that they are unsure of what is happening. That they need to have the reassurance that they are still very important, special and that you love them. Keeping to their routine can help with this stage.
Get the children involved!
Offer for your older children to be involved in the preparations before baby arrives. Picking out clothes or helping to get things ready in the baby’s room can all help the child connect to their new sibling.
Again, before baby arrives, make the prospect of a new sibling a positive and exciting event. Read stories and watch programmes about the arrival of a new baby. Always be honest with your child that the baby will cry, and Mummy/Daddy will need to give them cuddles etc. By being honest it helps them to adjust without thinking it is going to be lots of fun, when often it is very different for them when the baby arrives. Also, it is good to explain that the baby will not come out and be a playmate straight away. That it needs to grow and it might be a little time before baby is able to play with their brother or sister.
Show the children pictures of them when they were a baby and talk about all the things you did with them. This will help them to understand that they were babies once as well and relate to the new baby. For younger children having prams, dolls etc around the house to play with helps them to start to relate as well. Let them bath their babies, put them in a cot etc so that they can practice for when the new baby comes.
Moving out of the nursery
In preparation for the new arrival sometimes you can look at moving your older child out of the nursery and into a new room. Make sure that you do this in good time and try not to associate the move with the arrival of new baby coming. It can make them feel pushed out. Make it all about a new room and that it is for them and not due to the new arrival.
Avoid making big changes such as potty training, moving from cot to bed, starting nursery etc. too close to the new baby arriving. 3 months before baby arrives is a good amount of time to keep clear of any change in their life. This can add additional pressure and often children pick up on this.
If your older child is still in a cot, don’t rush them out of this so that you have the cot for the baby. This can make your older child feel resentful. Remember, their cot is their place of comfort and security. You might want to consider buying a new cot for the new arrival. There are some good quality yet cost-effective cots which you might want to buy until your older child is out of their cot.
Show your children the nursery and let them help put toys etc around the room. Also explain that the baby is going to need to sleep in the room with you for a little while as they are very small so you can check that they are ok etc. Putting the Moses basket or side sleeper in your room a few weeks before the birth can help your child to understand that this is where the baby is going to be.
Books which might help
There are lots of books out there for different aged children about having a new baby. Reading books can help to introduce the topic in an appropriate manner depending on the age/stage of your children. Here are some suggestions. However there are many on the market and some specifically about being a brother or sister, or for those who will be having multiple siblings:
What’s your hospital plan?
Have a plan for when you go into hospital. Who is going to look after your older children? Will they come to your house or will your children be going to their house? All of these things need to be considered and talked through with your children in advance. Explaining what will happen can provide reassurance, gives them the opportunity to ask any questions and means that it will not be a shock for them when the time comes.
When the baby arrives
Introducing the children
When the baby is born, introduce the children as soon as possible. Make it a positive experience, giving them lots of attention, praise and encouragement. Allow them to gently touch baby, to stroke their feet or tummy and talk about using “gentle / kind hands”. Again, if your older children do not want to hold the baby or pay them any attention, don’t worry about or force this. Just let them do it in their own time. It might be that they are nervous rather than not liking the baby, so just want to watch the adults before they get involved.
When your children come to hospital try to make sure that the baby is in the crib or that someone else is holding the baby. So you have both arms to give them cuddles and kisses when they first see you. They will have missed you, so being able to give them the affection that they will need at this time is important.
It might be a nice idea for the baby and older children to exchange gifts. The children could pick out something nice for the baby and then receive something exciting in return.
Keep things as normal as you can
Once you are all home, try to keep things as normal as possible for the older children. You will of course have a new baby to care for, but simple things such as keeping the older children in their normal routine will help to reassure them that not everything has changed. Where possible try to ensure that their bedtime routine is consistent and this can also be a good time of the day for 1:1 time with you. Providing cuddles and conversation to give them reassurance.
Encourage any guests to greet the older children first when coming to meet baby, so that they don’t feel any less important. It will be hard but ask them to try not to make conversations they have with the older children just about the baby or being a big brother or sister etc. Get them to talk about other things, play a game with them etc.
Get the children involved!
Wherever possible, depending on the children’s ages, encourage them to be involved in the baby’s care. If they’re not old enough to do things independently, encourage them to “pass you a nappy”, “fetch a toy for the baby” or “sing the baby a song”. But don’t put any pressure on them. If they say “no” then this is fine, and just make sure that they are not having to do too much….unless they want to.
Distraction – baby’s feeding times may be a particular time when the older children might feel left out. So try to find something exciting that they can do during these times. It might be something as simple as a special sticker book or you could ask them to come and sit with you so that you can use the opportunity to have a really nice chat. Also, for example, when you have visitors try to use this opportunity to spend time with your older child/ren. So maybe going out to the park or to the café without the baby so that they have that 1:1 time with you.
Expect some jealousy and resentment
This is only natural while the older children adjust to the new arrival. Ask those around you to help. Either to give the older siblings extra attention, or to hold baby so that you can spend some quality time with the older children.
My final piece of advice is to be patient. As above, try to ensure that they get lots of quality time with you so that they don’t feel left out. Where possible, try to keep bedtimes as consistent as possible as this will help them to feel safe and secure.
New siblings are a natural part of families, but we need to understand that as adults we have the understanding of what having another baby means. We have 9 months to adjust and prepare for the new arrival, but our children haven’t necessarily asked for this new sibling.
Time is a very different concept for them (things can feel like they take a very long time) and their place in the family is going to change. They will become the eldest child or a middle child and so they will need time to adjust to this. There will be a huge range of emotions that they will experience and it is important to empathise with these. To then appreciate that some days they will not want to help with the baby or other days they will want to do everything for the baby. Giving your older children the time and space to still have their interests, individual attention and also involvement with the baby (if they want to) will all help to create a calmer family environment.