“There’s a baby in Mummy’s tummy!” While explaining to your child that there will be a baby is adorable and sometimes hilarious, you still need to prepare your little one for the new arrival. Here are some suggestions on how to make this adjustment as positive and smooth as possible for them.
- Be honest. Storks and gooseberry bushes are all very well, but it’s best to stick to the truth. Whilst we don’t want to blind them with science and intimate details, it is still worth answering their questions in a straightforward and honest way. Keep it short, easy and brief, and respond to what they ask you in a truthful, plain and simplified way. In the unlikely event that it’s getting tricky, change the subject and distract them! Books are available on the subject, if you need backup.
- Create a countdown. Weeks and months can seem an eternity when you’re small. Explaining what season the new baby is due in will help, and if there’s a familiar event around that time, this can also give perspective. “The new baby is coming in the Summer, just before Nanny’s birthday, when you’ll be five” is easier to grasp than “Six months’ time”. Having a weekly tick-off list that you made and decorated together can make it more exciting, and creates a visual aid for the timescale. Or something like buying a big book of stories to get through, or putting stars or pebbles from one jar to another. There are lots of ways to make the countdown both exciting and real.
- Give them some involvement. Have your child help you in the preparations, such as choosing between items, asking them what they think the baby will like, and getting their opinions will help them to feel valued and included. You don’t want to overwhelm them with responsibility, or put any pressure on them, but choices such as “Which of these do you think the baby will like best, this one or this one?” and including them in conversations can help them to have a sense of contributing in a positive way. It also highlights their important upcoming role as a valued big sister or brother.
- The baby is here! They have always been the baby. As wonderful as a new baby is, it is crucial that your child does not feel pushed aside or replaced in your affections. When they meet their new sibling for the first time, ideally you should not be holding the baby, but have your arms ready to open to them for a huge hug. Then let them take the lead in asking to see the new baby, once they are ready. A good idea is to have a present there, all ready for them, that is from the baby! Something to say thank you for being my big sister or brother, perhaps. Talk to them about when they were born and how wonderful that was. Ask other relatives to do the same. This reinforces that they too, were a cherished tiny baby. Looking at photos of them as a baby, and even some of their old things, is also a lovely way to remind them that they were just as eagerly anticipated and excitedly received as this baby.
- When friends and relatives come to see the baby, get a message to them beforehand to please greet and make a fuss of your older child, first. In the past, they were the one receiving the focus and attention from visitors. It is nice if visitors, too, have a little gift for your older child, when possible. Congratulate them on becoming a sister or brother. After the initial welcome and fuss, guests can then ask your child about the new baby, and if they could take them to meet them.
- Keep them involved. When convenient for them, getting your child to help bring you items during outings, feeding and nappy changes can keep them feeling important and useful. Remind them what a wonderful help they are to both you and the baby, and how glad of their company you are. However, if at times they don’t want to help, then that’s fine too; it shouldn’t feel like a chore. My mother used to ignore my baby sister when she started crying. I would then point it out to her and she would say “What should we do about it, do you think? Should I leave her, or go to her?” I would consider it, before solemnly saying “I think you should go to her” and then feel quietly heroic and benevolent at my own wisdom!
- Expect a bit of a backlash. Yes, your child is completely delighted to be a big sister or brother, and loves the new baby very much. However, there are lots of big changes within the home, with their routine, and with how much of the attention they now get. On top of this, they could feel some imagined pressure to be more mature, or to know that the baby’s needs are a priority. If the baby’s arrival coincides with a change for them, such as starting nursery or school, going into a big bed, or coming out of nappies, you can see how connections could form in their mind! They could go back to some more babyish behaviour, such as wanting to be fed, baby talk, asking for a dummy or bottle, wetting themselves or the bed, wanting to be carried, or simply acting younger. They may even feel jealous of the baby, or want some of the baby’s toys or items, or to go in the buggy or cot. They are testing the boundaries. This is also their way of asking for attention, and seeking reassurance that they are still just as high in your affections as they were before, and that you don’t love the new baby more than you love them. Be patient and calm, and know that this is just a temporary phase. They are only young and are processing a lot of changes to their life, however positive. It’s just a period of adjustment. Let the dust settle for all of you. Keep calm and be loving! You’re doing a great job.
- Make time for your older child. Having a baby to care for is exhausting. Having another child to also care for is even more so. You’re being pulled in different directions, and there’s always something that needs doing. Yet your child will crave reassurance that they are still just as loved and precious as they always were. Time together doing something just the two of you is a wonderful way of giving them security and comfort. Even if it’s just for ten minutes, bath-time or dinner time, reading a bedtime story (or breakfast story) or some other small routine as part of your day, it will go a long way towards your child’s wellbeing and happiness.
- All shall be well. Remember the positives. Having another child to love is a beautiful blessing, and you are fortunate indeed. The children will form a close bond and be glad of each other, even if they do end up bickering as kids! The benefits are huge. Second time around, most parents say that they are more confident and relaxed, having been through it all before, and knowing what to expect. Just give yourselves all a little time to adapt to the new dynamics, and get into the swing of things. If you are having a Belly Blessing Ceremony during your pregnancy, you can include your child and their upcoming role as a sibling. Also, if at some point, you have a Naming Day Ceremony for the baby, there are many ways to involve your other child or children, letting them help with some of the choices, and giving them active roles to play on the day. Being a big brother or sister is an honour and a privilege. Someone to share your childhood with. It’s a wonderful gift. ‘Siblings will forever be bonded by having begun their journey in the same boat’
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