Earlier this week, we shared a video on our Facebook page, of a little girl meeting her new baby brother and she was not impressed at all. As hilarious as the video is, it’s a real-life glimpse into many parents’ fears about having a new addition in the family. So, we decided to dive into the topic of introducing your child to a new brother or sister. Remember, even if you follow every step from every blog, book and forum you still may not get the reaction you’re dreaming of. This is a big change for any child to process, especially if it’s their first sibling, and they’ll deal with it in their own way. Even if they’re unimpressed with their new family member, they’ll soon adjust to the new routine and you’ll have a funny story to tell when they’re older.
Telling your child that you’re pregnant
Most expectant parents choose to tell their child about their pregnancy after the first trimester, around the time when you start telling other people. As you may know, children are not the ideal secret-keepers so if you’re keeping your pregnancy quiet, you may want to avoid telling your little one. Whenever you choose to tell them, explain that having a new baby in the house will not change how much you love them, but the baby will take up a lot of time. Make sure they know that the baby will mostly eat, sleep and cry for the first months and it will be a long time until they are a playmate, this prevents your child from being disappointed when the baby is born and they are “boring”. It’s best to be realistic and honest with your child at this stage, so they are prepared for the ups and downs of a new baby in the household.
Use books such as My New Baby to help you explain the news in language that your child can easily understand. Show them pictures of yourself when you were pregnant previously, so they can adjust to the idea that mammy will begin to look different.
Enjoying your pregnancy
Many women say it’s more enjoyable to be pregnant when you already have other children because they take your mind off any pregnancy worries you may be having and it’s fun to see your child take an interest in the baby and your growing belly. Here’s some ideas that will help your child feel more involved and connected to your baby:
- Take time with your child to allow them to touch your bump and feel the baby kick. Use a doll to explain to your child how to be gentle with a baby, show them how to hug and kiss them gently so they’re more confident when they meet the baby.
- Do practical activities together like packing the hospital bag, shopping for baby supplies and decorating the nursery.
- Bring your child out to buy clothes for the baby and allow them to pick a new outfit for themselves to wear when the baby comes home from the hospital, this shows them that this is a happy family event, just like Christmas or Easter.
- Ask your child if they can think of any good names for the baby and ask for their opinion on the names you’re considering. Expect names such as “Captain America” or “Scooby Doo” to be excitedly suggested and just tell them you’ll write that down on the list of ideas (don’t worry, baby, I wouldn’t do that to you) but including your child in the process makes them feel more involved and excited.
- If your child needs to make changes such as moving into a toddler bed to give the cot to the baby, or changing bedrooms, then introduce this change early in your pregnancy. Try to minimise the amount of change that occurs in your child’s routine around the time that your baby is born.
- Help your child to understand the baby’s growth by using visual aids, like the classic fruits and vegetable comparisons! Check out our chart on a previous blog post to show your child how big their brother or sister is right now.
- Bring your child to a scan at UltraScan so they can see the baby moving live on the big screen. This helps them to understand that the baby is a real person, as they see them moving, yawning, smiling or waving. Children are often amazed and extremely excited during the scan, you really get a sense that everything is beginning to make sense to them and they are feeling love and affection for this little baby. You can bring up to 5 guests to your scan so feel free to bring other family or friends who can answer any questions for your child while you are enjoying your scan experience.
Once you’ve had your baby it’s time for all your hard work to pay off (hopefully). Plan a special day for your child around the visit to meet their baby sibling, this helps your child to create positive associations with the new baby. Ask your partner to do something fun with your child before coming into the hospital to see you. Keep the hospital visits as flexible as possible, try not to be hurt if your child doesn’t want to spend a lot of time with you in the hospital, it’s a lot for them to process and seeing you “sick” in a hospital may be strange for them. Keep a photo of your child beside your bed while you’re in the hospital and make sure it’s somewhere they can see it, this shows them that you are still thinking of them even when you’re not with them.
Try to have your child arrive while the baby is sleeping. This gives them time to catch up with you and get used to the idea of the baby being around, without the baby taking any of your attention yet.
Give your child a gift “from the baby”. This is the classic ice-breaker. It tells your child that the new baby is a real person with thoughts and feelings – and even better – a real person who gives presents! This method is sometimes criticised for potentially being confusing to the child, they may wonder “how did the baby buy this present? Can the baby walk, talk, go to Smyths, pay for my toy and come back to the hospital?” but in most cases the child is just happy to have the gift! It’s your decision if you want to add this bit of make-believe or not, but gifts are good bribes regardless of who they’re from.
When it’s time to come home, try to make it feel special for your child. Dress them in a special outfit (bonus points: match their outfit with the baby’s outfit) and let them know that it’s a special day for everyone as a family. Maybe organise to have their favourite meal and watch a movie as a family that night. Many adults who are older siblings say they still remember the day their baby sibling came home from the hospital, so this is a great opportunity to make some great memories!
Help your child adjust to big sibling life with these ideas:
- Involve your child in the baby’s care by giving them little jobs to do. Jobs could include putting dirty nappies in the bin, searching for the soother and helping to dress the baby. Take all the help you can get!
- Ask your child’s opinion on things like “do you think the baby would like to wear yellow or green today?”
- Ask questions that encourage empathy in your child, such as “the baby is crying, do you think she is sad? What could be upsetting her?” this helps them to see the baby as a person with feelings, just like them.
- Ask guests to make a special effort to involve your child, perhaps they could ask your child to introduce them to the new baby and ask them questions about things that do not involve the baby such as school or creche.
- When guests bring gifts allow your child to unwrap them for the baby, this will help to prevent jealousy.
- Say “we”. “We have just finished changing the baby’s nappy and we sang her a song to put her to sleep!” even if all they did during the nappy change was shout “EWW”. This makes them feel important and appreciated.
- Praise them often. Tell them how well they are doing adjusting to being a big brother/sister. Thank them for each thing they do to help.
- When taking pictures invite your child to be in them with the baby and take some pictures of them by themselves.
- If your child doesn’t want to be involved with the baby, don’t force or punish them. They are adjusting in their own way and may feel negatively towards the baby if they feel they are being forced to interact. Many children just “ignore” their new sibling until they have had time to process the big change.
As with most things in parenthood, it won’t be all smooth sailing. The transition may give your child feelings of stress, which manifest in numerous ways. Your child may start to act like a baby to get your attention. They might be sucking their thumb, crying, refusing to communicate, asking for bottles, soothers etc and wanting to be carried everywhere. You can help them with this behaviour by giving them some undivided attention, maybe while the baby is asleep or being cared for by someone else. Try to do activities which stimulate their mind like puzzles or artwork to show them that being an older kid is much better than being a baby. Talk to your child about how they’re feeling, let them know that you are always willing to listen and explain that it’s normal to wish that things would go back to how they were before the baby was born. Try not to act upset or angry if they express negative feelings towards the baby, they will learn to love the baby in their own time.
Always be extra vigilant when supervising their interactions. Children can sometimes express anger through physical aggression, even if they are usually gentle and loving towards the baby. If they are bottling up a lot of anxious feelings they may act roughly with the baby. There may be attempts to hit, scratch or move the baby when you’re not looking. Ask for help from family and friends if you’re worried about your toddler causing harm to your baby. This is a phase that will pass and although it’s frightening, it’s quite normal. Just make sure to communicate with your child and encourage them to let their frustration out in other ways.
The process of introducing a child to a brand new family member can be stressful but also extremely rewarding (much like parenthood as a whole). Patience, honesty and communication are the name of the game. Accept help from those who offer. If things are not going smoothly, it’s not your fault. If your child isn’t getting as much attention as they previously were, don’t feel guilty. Your children are lucky to have a parent who cares so much about their happiness that they were willing to read this entire blog post!
Begin the bonding here at UltraScan by bringing your little one along to a scan to see their sibling in HD live video and hear their heartbeat in immersive surround sound.
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