It is common knowledge that the arrival of a child into a household can bring with it great upheaval. It is well known that partners of new mothers can feel elements of separation anxiety as the mother spends increasingly more time with the newborn. Yet just as the father may feel an emotional shift occurring in family life, so will any existing children. This feeling can be more acute in a child who has no other younger siblings and has grown accustomed to being the sole recipient of attention from his/her parents.
This guide aims to provide some simple steps to help reduce the amount of separation anxiety felt by the older sibling as he/she adjusts to having a new little brother or sister in the family.
Before The Baby Is Born
Educating the older child for the arrival of a new sibling is essential in ensuring a smooth transition. This can help reduce separation anxiety even whilst the mother is still in hospital.
It is best to inform the child about a new sibling just after the pregnancy is known. Encouraging them to ask questions and express their feelings of excitement or anxiety will show that you are attentive to their concerns and emotional needs. Also by making gradual changes in the home and explaining the mother’s physical changes is recommended well in advance of the birth. This will help to decrease feelings of resentment or jealousy.
Show the older child their own baby pictures and talk to them about what they were like as a baby. In particular, discuss baby care routines such as feeding, sleeping, crying and bathing. This will help prepare the sibling for the amount of time mother will be spending with the new baby.
Nearer to the expected arrival time of the baby, allow the older child to buy a gift for the new baby as well as a present for themselves – a keepsake is usually best. Read bedtime stories that incorporate the birth of a new family member. The local library is a good source of children’s books that feature families welcoming younger siblings into the home. You can find books geared towards children of any age.
Active involvement by the father and scheduled “alone” times with Mum can help compensate the sibling for the loss of some of the mother’s attention during pregnancy and after the baby arrives.
After the Baby Is Born
It makes sense for some families to arrange for the child to remain at home with family members such as grandparents, aunts or uncles whilst mother is in hospital. Yet it is vital for both the parents to maintain contact with the older child whilst away at hospital. This helps the older child to realise that they are still an important part of the family. Use of the phone or via regular visits to the hospital will keep the child in touch with Mum.
Allow the sibling to hold and/or assist in bathing and nappy changing, under appropriate adult supervision. Compliment the older child and thank him/her for their help. Also, try teaching the older child simple games to play with their new brother or sister, for example, holding out a finger for the baby to squeeze or singing a song to the new baby.
In spite of making all the relevant changes some older children may ‘play up’ in response to the stress of the life change. They may regress and develop less mature behaviour such as being unable to dress themselves or use the toilet, if they are toilet trained. There may be crankiness or the unwillingness to cooperate for a short time, but this subsides after continued love and understanding. Older children will learn to adjust and will grow to love their new brother or sister.