How to Introduce a New Sibling to Your Child is a guest post by Kathy Stirrup
The pregnancy test shows positive and you are elated, you can’t wait to share this news.
You know that most of your family and friends will be happy for your news, but there is one person you are not so sure about.
Someone who has been used to being the centre of your world who now might have to share that pedestal with another.
What can you do to ensure that the transition from being an only child to being a sibling goes without a hitch?
The simple answer to this is nothing. Realistically there will be hitches along the way, but there ARE things that you can do that will help this life-changing event to run more smoothly.
Bonding with a new sibling can begin well before the birth, and in fact is advised. It’s an individual choice as to when you tell your child that a new sibling is on the way, depending on their temperament, age and understanding of time.
For example, if your child is an excitable, wants things to happen yesterday kind of child, then you might delay the telling of their new sibling’s existence till your pregnancy becomes more obvious – nine months is a long time in a small person’s life.
Bear in mind however that small people aren’t stupid so if you and others are openly talking about the new baby then it’s respectful to include your little one in the loop of what is going on so he feels included.
Time is a hard to concept to grasp so giving an event to link the baby’s birth to, where you can, can be helpful. For example, you might say “Our new baby is coming around Christmas time”.
Some practical things that might help with introducing a new baby
Before the birth
Talk regularly to your child about the new baby so that the concept isn’t foreign. You might like to help them track the time and share in the miracle that is new life by getting a book that details the different stages of development of the baby in utero, sharing this in terms they can understand.
You might take your child with you sometimes to the antenatal check-ups and have them listen to the heartbeat or see the ultrasound pictures of the baby in utero.
Leading by example by chatting to and including your unborn baby in conversations and encouraging your child to do the same can also be helpful. You could have a ritual at the end of the day of sharing the day’s events with the baby or at the beginning of the day telling your unborn child alongside their sibling what your unfolding day might look like.
You might also encourage them to sing to the baby, to hug the baby and later on when movement becomes more discernible, to feel the baby’s movement and to play games with guessing what part of the body they might be seeing or feeling move, “do you think that might be their foot?”
It can be helpful to introduce your child to a real live baby so that they can have firsthand experience of what to expect. Spend time with a friend’s baby, or maybe a baby from a social group you both belong to. Use this time to talk about what a baby is like, the things that they can and can’t do.
You can also refer back to photos of your child as a baby and talk about the things that they could do then as opposed to the things that they are capable of now. Introduce them to the idea of the important role that they have as an older, wiser sibling, all the things that they will be able to help teach the baby, the things that they will be able to help do for the baby.
It’s also an opportunity here to sow seeds that when the baby is first born they will be needing lots of attention as there will be many things that they can’t do for themselves and that this might be hard at times, but that mummy and daddy will still have special times with just them – and make sure this promise is kept.
Remind them that even though the new baby will need help and attention your child will still be loved and important.
You could role-play with your little one and some dolls or stuffed animals looking after a baby so that they are familiar about what might be involved in having a newborn in the house. This doll/stuffed animal can also be utilised after the birth as your little one’s baby for them to copy the things that you might be doing with your new born, for example my daughter use to “breastfeed” her doll when I was breastfeeding her new brother. This kind of role-play helps children process the changes going on around them.
It is up to each individual family as to how much to include your child in the birth of their new sibling. Some will want them fully involved and some will want to bring them in at the very end, or just after the birth, or the next day.
Whatever your decision, it can be helpful to give your child a child friendly version of what is happening in birth in a way that conveys the wonder rather than the fear.
There are a number of children’s books written on this topic which you could use as an aid if wanted.
After baby arrives
Your once “centre of attention” now has a rival for your time and affection. There are times that your little one will need to wait for what he wants or needs.
There are times that he will miss out on doing something that he wants to do or somewhere that he wants to go because it doesn’t fit with a new born schedule. He no longer has an ever-present playmate, and has to learn at times to do things on his own.
There can be a lot more stress in the household and this can affect your child’s equilibrium too. It’s a HUGE change. Each child will respond to this change differently. Some children will just accept the changes, others, not so much. They might show this by acting out, temper tantruming, being aggressive towards the new baby or towards a trusted adult. They might regress in their behaviour or development, for example they might go from being toilet trained to having multiple accidents, or from sleeping through the night to multiple wakings, or from speaking clearly with a large vocabulary to baby talk.
You can continue to do many of the pre-arrival activities after the birth too, in modified form, to help connection between your older child and baby.
In early visits to the hospital it can be good to have someone else hold the new baby so that you can cuddle and give attention to your older child. Once home, try and make sure that there are times scattered throughout your days together for you to give focus to your older child, this can be whilst your baby is sleeping or by handing your baby over to a partner, other family member or visiting friend. Something that is important to remember is that we are built for community and utilising this community, especially after the birth of a baby can go a long way to helping an older child to adjust and to help lessen the stress of change.
Help your child to feel important as a big sibling by getting them to use their skills to help you with the baby. For example, fetching things for you or the baby, helping with feeding, fetching things for a nappy change, or singing or talking to the baby to help them calm. They can help you with simple household jobs like setting the table. Things that highlight and celebrate the things that they can do as a big sibling.
It’s good to have a bag or a corner set up for your older child of activities they can do when you need to attend to your baby. These might include paper and crayons for drawing, story books, some favourite toys or cd’s of favourite songs. You might also make sure that some nutritional snacks and drinks are accessible for your older child to help themselves to when needed.
The likelihood of having a seamless introduction of new sibling into the family are low but as we have seen there are many things that you can do to make this a time in which your older child continues to feel loved and valued for who they are and proud of their role as an older sibling.
About Kathy Stirrup
Kathy Stirrup, alongside her daughter Alexandra Newmarch, run Phoenix Place, a counselling, play therapy and mothercraft agency in the south of Sydney (www.phoenixplace.com.au). Kathy has trained as a Mothercraft Nurse, Child Care Worker, Counsellor and Play Therapist, and has had over 30 years of experience working with children and their families. Kathy also has a family of her own with two now grown-up children and a teenager, and a baby grandson.
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Do you have tips on how to introduce a new sibling?