Preparing your child for a new sibling

by Karen Emery. The arrival of a new sibling can be a tricky time for an older child.

boy and girl eating a packed lunch

Introduction

The reaction of your child to the arrival of a new brother or sister will be as individual as they are and will largely depend upon their temperament and personality.

Some children will be completely accepting and will embrace a new baby into the family, while others will be utterly indifferent. For many children though, the arrival of a new sibling can be a difficult time.

Many child psychologists agree that the arrival of a new sibling can be as shocking to children as it would be to you if, say, your partner suddenly brought another person home and said, 'I love you so much that I've got another partner to join the family and we're all going to live happily together'. How would you feel? Angry? Sad? Jealous? Resentful? It's more than likely that your child will feel the same way when you bring a new baby home.

Unlike an adult though, a young child cannot verbalise how they are feeling and will often 'act out' their emotions with disruptive or baby-like attention-seeking behaviour. Be reassured that these feelings are usually fleeting and many children quickly adjust to their new sibling.

However, there are things you can do as a parent to make the transition easier. You can help your child prepare for the arrival of a sibling by helping your child to understand that a baby brother or sister will be joining the family, by ensuring that your child knows they are as important and loved as they were before, by reassuring your child that life 'for them' will remain the same, and by handling any disruptive behaviour with a firm but fair response.

All any child needs to know when a new baby arrives is that they aren't going to be replaced and that they are still loved. Helping your child to understand this will go a long way in their acceptance of a new brother or sister.

How CBeebies can help

CBeebies has some wonderful activities that you and your toddler can do in preparation for a new sibling arriving. Try making gifts together to welcome baby home. There are lots of lovely ideas in the Make and Colour section which your child could have a go at.

Any sibling preparation is best done after you or your partner is over six months pregnant. Toddlers have no concept of time and will quickly forget!

Preparing for a new sibling can be challenging. My Story Online can be used as a tool to help your child understand how things will change.
Pick the templates that best suit your situation, here are some suggestions that may help:

Make a special book with your child to welcome their new sibling. A My People page could show everyone in your family, including the new arrival!
A My Day page could celebrate the new baby’s birthday. You could include the time they were born, physical features and make photo stickers with pictures.
The I feel page could be used to explore how your child is feeling once the baby has arrived.

With the arrival of a new sibling, many children feel left out. Why not make one of the shared My Story pages together- it’s a fun way to have some one-to-one time with your toddler.

How to make a magic moment

This is a good activity to try as a whole family but works particularly well with just mummy and your little one. Decide on some lullabies and gentle nursery rhymes and explain to your child that the baby loves to hear you sing!

Encourage your child to sing towards your baby bump, and if you feel comfortable to do so, expose your belly and let your child gently massage your abdomen as you sing along.

This allows you to demonstrate what 'gentle' feels like and will be helpful when the baby finally arrives. Ask your child if they can feel the baby. Does the baby move when your child touches your tummy?

Ask your child if they think the baby likes one song over another. Depending upon your child's age and understanding, this exercise can prompt some discussion about the baby, e.g. what the baby might look like. What colour hair do you think baby will have? You could also have some photographs of your older child as a baby or when you were pregnant with them to reinforce the idea of a baby inside mummy's tummy.

This is a wonderful bonding experience for all of you and even very young children will be able to appreciate the singing and massage involved even if they don't quite understand the entire concept.

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Expert opinion

Try to foresee the things that will make your toddler feel most pushed out and arrange in advance for the new baby to have his own space, not her's.

Penelope Leach, Parent Expert and Child Development Psychologist

Top tips

  • Toddlers love routine and consistency! Make any changes to their daily routine - sleeping arrangements, childcare and potty training - long before the baby comes or wait until a few months after the baby's arrival.Prepare a 'Feeding Treasure Basket' together for when the baby comes. The treasure basket can be filled with lots of engaging activities or books to keep your child occupied during feeding times but will also make your child feel special and included.Try to include your toddler as much as is appropriate in preparing for the baby, e.g. your toddler could help you get the nursery ready, help pack mummy's hospital bag or help wash and sort out baby clothes. Involving your child will make them feel important and will give them a role. Don't forget to include them when the baby arrives too! Give your child lots of manageable jobs like getting you a nappy to increase their feeling of self-worth and belonging.When the baby does arrive, try to spend at least once a day with your toddler on a one-to-one basis, doing something that they enjoy.Positive parenting! Try to be understanding of why your child might misbehave when the baby arrives but at the same time be clear and set firm boundaries. Explain to them that bad behaviour will not be tolerated. Praise and give lots of positive attention whenever your child behaves well and when they are kind, thoughtful and gentle.

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