The arrival of a new sibling may be as shocking to children as it would be to you if your partner suddenly brought another person home. Unlike an adult, your child will not be equipped to verbalise their feelings and will act out in ways that are disruptive or attention-seeking. What can you do as a parent to help smoothen the transition from “I am my parent’s child” to “I am my parent’s child and a brother (or sister) to another baby”?
Here are some ways you can allow your child to accept the realities of having a new baby in the house.
Tell him the news yourself Sitting him down and giving him your undivided attention as you tell him is very important. It might help to wait till you’re showing before letting him know, as young children might not be able to understand it until he sees how big you are getting.
Get him involved
The best way to help your little one from feeling left out is to make him feel included. If your child is curious about the growth in your belly, answer his questions patiently. Invite him along on a doctor’s visit and tell him it’s a check up for the baby, so that he can listen to his sibling’s heartbeat. If he’s eager to practice his older sibling skills, have him sing to, talk to, and kiss your belly. You can also bring him along when you’re shopping for baby items.
Show pictures and videos of him as a newborn
Using pictures and videos to talk to him about what he was like as a newborn can allow him to better visualise what a newborn will be like. You can talk to him about how much he used to cry, and why he did so, or that he mostly slept all day. He might have pictured an instant playmate when you told him he would be getting a new sibling so letting him know what babies are like can help him prepare for the reality better.
Begin with what won’t change
A new baby means new sights (seeing you breastfeeding), sounds (hearing the baby crying) and smells (soiled diapers), and all of these might be too much change for him in a short time. Make time for predictable routines that make your child feel secure. That morning cuddle, that bedtime bath and story, and not forgetting, lots of kisses! Another way to keep your child from stressing about the changes a baby will bring is not to push progress on milestones. If your child hasn’t totally accomplished potty training or sleeping in a big boy bed by midway through your third trimester, put off the transitions until he has settled into his new role as an older sibling.
What not to do
Saying “I’ll still love you” when he hasn’t questioned whether you will, or “Don’t worry about the new baby” when he isn’t worried to begin with can give your child the idea that there’s good reason to be baby-phobic. Reassure him on specific concerns only if they come up. Avoid using emotional blackmail such as “If you’re naughty, I will love baby more than you.”
A version of this article was published in Singapore’s Child Issue 179, titled “Preparing Your Child for a New Sibling”.