If you’re wondering when you should tell your child that they’re going to have a new baby brother or sister, the answer is, as soon as you tell anybody else, even if your child is too young to understand. Secrets have a habit of slipping out, and you don’t want a friend or family member unwittingly asking your child if they are excited about their new sibling.
Depending on your child and their age, this huge change can be hard to handle. Here’s how to make things a little bit easier for them and for you.
The Big Moment
Sit your child down and explain the arrival of the new baby in age-appropriate terms—for example, they might gain more understanding if you say the baby will arrive ‘near Christmas’ rather than ‘in seven months’ time’. Describe how the baby is growing inside mummy, and invite your child to ask any questions they may have—a child who wants to know more will usually ask, whereas younger children may not have much interest or understanding.
You’ll need to explain that the newborn won’t become a playmate straight away. Emphasise this by telling your child that they can help you with the many needs that the baby will have, making them feel involved.
Other great ways to encourage your child to take an interest in the pregnancy include:
- Reading age-appropriate books about childbirth or becoming a sibling.
- Going through your older child’s baby pictures and explaining that they used to do all the things that the new baby will be doing.
- Continuing to give your child plenty of attention and ensure that they spend time with family members, such as dad or grandma, who might be looking after them while mum rests or recovers.
- Visiting friends who have infants.
- Taking your child to sibling birth classes. These are usually offered at hospitals to provide explanations on how a baby is born, lessons on how to hold a baby and opportunities for children to discuss their feelings.
- Thinking of potential baby names together.
- Going to the doctor so that your child can hear the baby’s heartbeat.
Bringing Baby Home
As your due date draws nearer, make sure your older child knows what to expect and where they will be when the day arrives. If the birth is going to require you to change your child’s routine, introduce these upheavals in advance.
Try to always keep your child’s bedtime consistent, but if you need to move them into a new bedroom or cot for example, allowing them plenty of time to adjust will make the change feel exciting, rather than like they’re being replaced.
When the new baby arrives, have someone bring your older child for a visit as soon as possible—allow someone else to hold the baby too, so that you can have cuddles. You could also consider giving them a gift from the baby, such as a T-shirt that says ‘Big Sister’ on it.
Speaking of gifts, your child’s home will likely become disrupted by friends and family members showering your newborn with attention. Remind visitors to spend time with your older child and encourage them to talk about something other than becoming a sibling.
Of course, your child needs special time with you, too—try to set aside time each day for them to have your undivided attention, and include them as much as possible in daily activities concerning the baby. Depending on their age, a big brother or sister can entertain the baby during a nappy change, help to push a pram or rock a cot, sing to the baby, and help dress or bathe them under your supervision.
If your child expresses no interest in the infant, don’t force it. It can take time for your child to feel okay about this big change, just make sure to reassure them and remind them that you love them just the same as before.
Even adults can find it difficult to accept change, so remember to cut your child some slack if they’re acting out or regressing—this is definitely normal. Some children may relish having newfound responsibilities and others may literally ask you to send the baby back to the hospital.
Your child may also revert to speaking in baby talk, sucking their thumb or wetting the bed at night, and this very normal—eventually, they will adjust. Instead of bending the rules, encourage your child to talk about their feelings surrounding the new baby.
Jealousy could be a sign that your child needs more one-on-one time with you. Try not to feel like you’ve let your child down, just give them time and be understanding.
This feature was originally published in the summer edition of Healthy Child with Dr Ranj Singh, which you can also read here!