Becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister

“Is she really staying?!” I asked as a 5-year-old about my newborn sister… A great friendship is not a given between siblings even though we are now best friends!

It is a very big step for your toddler to share the space with that new little creature (all red and wrinkly which only sleeps and cries – how boring!) and we seem to underestimate that impact. The way this is handled will make a difference long term. Children might respond better if they have been well included in the process of birth and the immediate postnatal period. This is a big topic that I discuss with clients as their Birth and Postnatal Doula.

Here are a few tips to ease this important transition:

  • Time is relative for a 2-year-old so don’t overwhelm him/her by talking too much about the baby during your pregnancy.
  • If possible, avoid big changes in the toddler’s routine around the birth (start potty training, new school or moving house,…) Having a sibling is enough as a change!
  • Take time to look through your older child’s photo of when he/she was a baby and emphasize that he/she was cared for in the same way.
  • Use a calendar to mark the coming birth as a fun family countdown.
  • Give your toddler realistic information about babies and that baby won’t be a playmate just yet.
  • Try and find a neutral place for the first encounter (hospital, relative’s house) so that your firstborn doesn’t feel invaded in he/she’s space and you can then all bring baby home together.
  • Purchase a little present for your toddler explaining it is a present from baby when they first meet.
  • You can ask your toddler to introduce the baby to friends and relatives if she/he wishes to.
  • Pick tasks the child can help with around baby (fetching nappies, helping with the bath, pushing the pram…)
  • Allow he/she to touch, cuddle or kiss baby. Accept the curiosity about bub. Avoid using “no…don’t…stop…” and replace with positive instructions when he/she is around baby.
  • Remind friends and relatives that your older child might want to talk about something other than the new baby.
  • If your older child acts out or regresses to behave like a baby, don’t get angry or impatient. Acknowledge and validate what he/she feels.
  • Try to keep your toddler’s routine as normal as possible after the birth so he doesn’t feel like his/her whole life is upside down: going to school, meals, bedtime, …
  • Make special time alone with your toddler when baby is sleeping for example and share his/she’s favourite activity.
  • Find books to read about the topic of becoming a big brother or sister so they know they are not along with these mix feelings about baby!

Books:

During Pregnancy

– “There is a house inside my mummy” by Giles Andreae & Vanessa Cabban

– “Hello in there!” by Jo Witek

After the Birth

– “My naughty little sister” by Dorothy Edwards and iconic illustrations by Shirely Hughes

– “How to be a Baby… by me, the big sister” by Sally Lloyd-Jones

– “You were the first” by Patricia Maclachlan

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