When my poor old mum had me, let’s just say that there wasn’t much that was done to get my sister and I off on the right foot. Although for health reasons we never did go on to have another child, I know first hand from my own upbringing just how important introducing your child to a new baby is if you want to ensure a happy and healthy relationship between siblings. With that said, today I have teamed up with the authors of a new picture book – Arabella and The Magic Pencil – which is about a little girl learning to be a big sister and Dr Sarah Hughes, author of Parenting Made Simple to share these top tips for introducing your child to a new baby and helping them to adjust to life with a sibling.
See things from your child’s point of view
When introducing your child to a new baby, even if your child’s excited to become a big brother or sister, that can change pretty quickly once the new addition to your family comes home. And that’s fair enough.
The reality is, a new baby will turn your child’s whole world upside down – for a little while at least – so try to be patient if your little one’s clingier or a little more out of sorts than usual. And if you’re struggling with that, think of it this way: how would you feel if your spouse came home and told you that they’d just found out they had a child they didn’t know about from a previous relationship? Shocked? Probably. Conflicted? Definitely.
You’d want to be supportive, but it would also be a lot to digest, and you’d feel like the rug had been pulled out from underneath you. That’s how your child’s feeling right now. It’s ok, they’ll adjust and everything will work out in the end, but in the meantime, be prepared to give your child time to process the new addition to your family.
Let your child feel how they feel
When your child tells you in no uncertain terms that they hate their new brother or sister it’ll be tempting to correct them – ‘No you don’t! You love him/her!’ – but don’t, it’ll only make things worse. As backward as it sounds, what your child needs most right now is to feel loved, heard, and understood.
So when introducing your child to a new baby validate how they’re feeling instead, by saying something like ‘It’s not much fun when your brother/sister cries this much is it. I don’t like it either, but it’ll get better’. And if you’re worried that’ll only make them hate their brother or sister more, don’t be. Correcting your child will keep them stuck in their dislike for their sibling, but feeling understood will pave the way for them to let go of any ill feelings.
Give your child special jobs, but don’t push it
A new baby will take up lots of your time and attention, but you can help your child to adjust to this and to feel included by getting them involved. Ask your child to pick clothes for their brother or sister to wear, to help you at bath time, or to gently pat his/her legs while you give bub a feed.
If your child loves getting involved, give them lots of praise for their helpfulness, but if they resist, don’t push things. Remember the point is to help your child to feel included, it’s not an exercise in compliance. If they refuse, let it go, and offer again at a later time.
Spend quality one on one time with your child
If your child’s having a hard time adjusting to the new addition to your family – make quality time with them a priority. This can feel like an impossible task when you’re drowning in dirty nappies and endless feeds, but giving your child quality time will help them to feel more secure, and that means fewer adjustment difficulties to contend with.
Once your little one is down, ask your child to play with you. Any activity your child wants to do is fine, just make sure that during that time, your child has your undivided attention – no exceptions. And if you’re struggling to make that work, that’s ok – ask others to get involved. Ask family or friends to make time for your child, or better yet, ask them to take something off your list – housework, meals, laundry – so you have time to play.
Normalise your child’s feelings
Welcoming a new baby to the family can trigger a whole host of feelings for kids. Joy at becoming a big brother or sister, anger at no longer being the centre of attention, grief and sadness at the realization that life has changed forever, just to name a few. Your child may not have the skills they need to understand these emotions let alone articulate them, and that’s where you come in.
When introducing your child to a new baby, they need your help to process what they’re feeling so they can cope. Give your child feedback to show you understand – ‘I’ve noticed you’ve been upset today and I’m wondering if it’s because your brother/sister has been crying a lot today and I haven’t had as much time to play. I’m sorry it’s been such a tricky day’ – but if remembering to give feedback proves too hard a task – which it can be with a newborn – use books about becoming a big brother or sister to have these conversations instead.
Will you soon be introducing your child to a new baby? What do you think of the tips above? Do share in a comment below.
Arabella and The Magic Pencil is available from Amazon here
About Dr Sarah Hughes
Dr Sarah Hughes completed her clinical training at the University of Sydney and holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology and a PhD in child and adolescent anxiety disorders. Sarah is the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists, and has 10 years of clinical experience. She is the author of Skip The Drama (Exisle 2018) and Parenting Made Simple which is due for release in by Exisle in 2020.