Brothers and sisters

Your toddler is going to get a little brother or sister soon. What can you do to make this change as easy as possible for you and your toddler? The key is to involve your child right from the word go. Let your little one feel your tummy and talk about his or her new brother or sister. But don’t push it if they’re not interested.

Before your new baby arrives...

Tell it like it is. Realistically, your tot won’t be able to play with your new baby at first. Take your child to visit other families with babies to help them learn what to expect. It’s also a good idea to tell your tot about the new arrival at the same time as you tell other people.

Keep things stable. Your tot might be anxious to know how things will change when the new baby arrives. Try to minimise the change. Let your tot spend time with the person who’ll look after them while you’re in labour. Be sure you tell your child that some things won’t change – for example, going to nursery or going to their gran’s house on Wednesday.

Plan well ahead. Make any changes, such as moving from a cot to a bed, well in advance of the new baby so they don’t feel ousted. Avoid major changes, such as potty training or starting nursery, too close to the delivery date. You can try to give your tot some sense of when the baby is due, for example, by talking about it arriving in the summer or after a holiday or their birthday. Kids under three have a little idea of time.

After your new baby arrives…

At first, your tot might be more than a little suspicious of the new arrival. Time will need to be spent reassuring them that they’re still very important.

First meeting When your toddler meets their new brother or sister for the first time, try to arrange for the new baby to be in the cot rather than your arms. If they want to hold the baby, help them to do so – but don’t insist on it.

Be tolerant. If your older child says they hate the baby or want to send it back, don’t criticise or tell them off. Acknowledge their feelings and help them work through it. Say something like: ‘We can’t send the baby back. But there’s no need to worry – I still love you too.’

Praise your tot. Your toddler may be babyish after a new sibling is born. He or she may want to suck from a bottle or the breast, start wetting themselves again, start waking at night or have more tantrums. Ignore bad behaviour and praise them at every opportunity for being a ‘big’ brother or sister.

Give them private space. Try to give each child a private place in which to keep their things. And be careful when it comes to reorganising your house in preparation for the new arrival. You might have to move your tot into a new room – but don’t frame it as ‘You have to move out for the new baby’. Instead, say something like ‘you’re getting much bigger now. I reckon you’d like sleeping in the bigger room.’

As the new baby gets older…

All children will try to compete and assert their authority just to remind everyone that they’re there. Fights are normal, so don’t sweat them too much. Let your kids know that, while you don’t expect them to be best pals the whole time, you do expect them to respect each other.

  • Give them one-to-one time. Try to spend time alone with each of your children – perhaps at bedtime or when your older child is at nursery or school.
  • Be fair. Never compare your children or hold one of them up as an example. ‘Why can’t you be more like your brother/sister?’ is a tough thing to say to any child.
  • Stay out of it. If possible, try to keep your distance when squabbles break out. Let your kids resolve things on their own. Whatever you do, don’t take sides.
  • Put a stop to violence. Make it absolutely clear that you won’t tolerate punching, kicking, biting and so on. When things get ugly, separate your kids calmly and insist on them spending time in separate rooms to simmer down.
  • Keep your cool. Try to remain calm. Don’t give your kids unnecessary attention for bad behaviour; otherwise they’ll continue to act up.

Hot tip

"Try doing things that everyone in the family can join in with, whatever their age, letting each of them see what the other is good at. It’ll also cheer you up as a parent to see your children enjoying time together.” Margaret Duncan, Sure Start Health Visitor, Dundee.

Last updated: 25 January 2013
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