Congratulations – you’re about to bring home a new baby!

Now you are tasked with the integration of this bundle of joy into your family – including breaking the news to your first born that they are going to be a big brother of sister. This transition is tricky and can be a big event in their lives, when considering the security and emotions of your little ones.

The concept and actualisation of a new baby is hardest for children around the ages of 17 months to 3 years of age. This time in a child’s life, they are relying heavily on their parents for consistency and continuity which bring a sense of security in their little lives. As a parent it is up to us to prepare children for what is to come, including the amount of attention they will have to share with their new sibling.

Even when children are so excited about their new baby, they will still need time to adjust, and the goal of how they adjust relies on how we support them through this shift in family dynamics. Parents need to ensure their children don’t feel overwhelm abandoned, left out and minimise sibling rivalry– all natural and acceptable ways to feel when you find out you have to share the love and time of the most important people in your world.

Like most things in life, preparation is key – and welcoming baby into your child’s life before they even arrive will help them feel connected to your baby, make the situations around the event more predictable, and keep your children excited and enthusiastic about becoming an older sibling.

Some strategies for families to use to help children adjust to a new sibling include:

Validate and accept your children’s feelings

Speak to and listen to your child, acknowledge that as well as being happy and excited, they may also feel left out, frustrated, even angry before and after baby arrives. Understand that your child is going through potentially the biggest change they have gone through and that with it, there may be big feelings and challenges regardless of how they are feeling. It is perfectly normal for your child to show us their feelings in non-traditional ways, such as regressing with toilet training, not sleeping as well as usual, having trouble with separation or transition times.

Focus on what has stayed the same – don’t focus on the change

Change is a big thing for everyone. Routines and traditions however can really help your children in times of change, the predictability and consistency of these times will bring comfort and security to your children in a time where everything else has changed. This could be as simple as ensuring the bedtime routine stays the same, walking the dog each night, or maintaining the same presence at day care. Reassure your child that you love them, and that soon they will have someone else to love them as well, their new baby brother or sister!

One-on-one time & recognition

One-on-one time with both or all parents, or even special family friends or relatives will provide the opportunity for children to have extra time and attention. You could use this time to talk about anything other than the new baby.

You could also use this opportunity to talk all about the new baby, or even about when they arrived as a new baby. This will help your children understand that they too were a newborn once and needed different time and attention, just like the new baby will need. You can take time to show them photos of themselves as newborns, or you could provide opportunities for the children to help prepare for the new baby, like setting up a nursery or taking them along for antenatal visits. Make sure you create opportunities for them to overhear you telling others just how helpful they have been and remind the child the new baby will be so lucky to have them as a big brother or sister.

Meeting the new baby

Meeting the new baby for the first time is an emotional experience. Families imagine the older sibling welcoming the baby with loving arms and loving it from the start. We can set everything up to support this meeting, but we should know by now that often nothing goes to plan. Try not to have expectations for the first interaction, some children might be excited for a kiss and cuddle, others might not, there is no wrong way!

Some great suggestions:

Don’t pressure your child into being a ‘good sister or bother’ – they will adjust in their own time and bond naturally. Bonding takes time and soon you will have some beautiful memories to cherish.

Consider positioning – some recommend having baby in a bassinet or crib instead of the parent’s arms to avoid triggering that instant jealousy (which is completely normal!). As long as it is safe and that your child knows the baby is so happy to meet them, again there is no wrong way. Keep it as natural and relaxed and most importantly – Do what is best for you!

Have a gift from the new baby for the older sibling, this gives the older child a positive association with their new sibling and also gives them something to do while everyone is looking at the baby.