Pregnancy is a joyous time, but for existing children the prospect of a new brother or sister can be incredibly stressful, especially if they’re an only child. They’ll notice the attention your baby bump gets and the excitement their parents and adult relatives express. It can lead to feelings of abandonment, uncertainty and cause actions designed to regain attention by any means. This is often exhibited by negative or disruptive behavior.
Unlike adults who can verbalize their distress, young children tend to express unhappiness by their behavior. They may become defiant, less attentive in school or physically abuse towards peers and caregivers. It’s important to realize this isn’t their fault or yours, but a cry for help.
The reaction can differ between ages; a toddler is more likely to have tantrums or act out, while older children can become jealous or withdrawn in response to the lost attention and feeling unwanted. It’s important to take time to talk about the baby and help them understand what will – and won’t – change once their sibling arrives. Here are some tips and tricks to help smooth the transition.
Paving the Way During Pregnancy
Toddlers (1-2 years)
Children this young won’t truly understand what’s happening, but they will hear you talk about the new baby and feel the same excitement you do. They may ask when the baby is coming, or mention playing with them. This is the perfect time to prepare your child. Share old pictures of them as a baby and explain how an infant is different from their age group. Emphasize the ability and the need to be gentle.
Preschoolers (3-4 years)
A child this age will be full of questions and curiosity, but are most likely to be negatively affected by the new arrival. Being open and honest with your preschooler is a must. Picture books will be an invaluable tool when discussing their expectations. Don’t hide important things. Tell them their new sibling can be fun, but will cry frequently and spend more time asleep than awake. Most importantly, get them to help plan for the new arrival with you. They’ll feel more involved and excited to meet the baby and create loving memories with you.
School-age children (5+ years)
School children are observant and sensitive to change, though more robust than preschoolers. They’ll understand why the baby requires so much attention but that doesn’t mean they are immune to jealousy. Help your school-age child adjust to the idea of a sibling by getting them involved. Let them choose outfits, help decorate the nursery or pack your hospital bag. Make sure you still set aside time for their favorite activities with you.
Keeping the Ball Rolling After Pregnancy
Get them involved
Let older children get involved in the baby’s care. That can include talking to the baby when they’re awake or cradling them during a feed. This will cultivate a strong bond with their new sibling and create a feeling of inclusion in the family dynamic.
Ask guests to help
Family and friends can’t wait to see a new addition, but ask visitors to spend time with the older children separately as well. It helps them feel important and validated to talk about things not related to the baby while everyone else is enthused with the arrival.
Do something special
An upheaval in routine can make a child feel uncertain. This is an important time to reinforce your bond with them. It can be as simple as reading a book or doing a puzzle while the baby is asleep or cared for by someone else. This will reaffirm your love and their importance in your life.
Without meaning to, babies consume our lives. This can negatively affect an older child’s mental health. Preparing your child is good, but spending quality time with them is even better. They need to know they’re still important.
Preparing for a new addition can be tough; but the most important thing to remember is to be honest, open and compassionate with your older children. They’re going to have to share the most important people in their lives. This can be difficult for them to accept and make the necessary adjustments.
Be patient and tell them you love them. It’s what they’re most worried about.