Preparing Older Siblings for a New Arrival

Preparing for a new baby brings a wonderful mix of emotions, from anticipation to anxiety, this is an exciting time. For second-time parents, however, preparing older children for the arrival raises a whole new list of questions and challenges, both before and after the birth.

Dr Rachel Johnson
Clinical Psychologist

Dr Rachel Johnson is a Clinical Psychologist specialising in working with children and families. She has over twelve years of NHS and private experience in the field of psychological assessment and intervention, gained across the health, education and social care settings. Rachel helps children and families of all ages, from babies through to teens, with behavioural, emotional and development issues. Areas of expertise include managing anxiety, assessing children for dyslexia and positive parenting support. For individual advice you can contact Dr Rachel Johnson direct at:
Speak to me on 0906 192 3742, £1.53/min from a BT landline; calls from mobiles and other networks may vary

Since the birth of her sister a month ago, my five-year-old’s behaviour has really gone downhill – one minute she wants to help, the next she is flying into a tantrum over nothing. What kind of things can I do to help get her back on track?

The arrival of a new sibling can be a tough time for a first child. After all, she is used to having her parents’ sole attention over the last five years. Compared to the new baby, she seems all grown-up, but it is important for mum and dad to remember that she is still only five and needs your help to regulate her emotions. One of the most important factors for your five-year-old will be inclusion. The more you are able to include her in with activities such as feeding, playing and bathing, the less likely she will be to feel left out, which may lead to undesirable behaviour as she struggles to get your full attention around the baby.

It’s also important to take time out (even if it’s just fifteen minutes while dad holds baby) to have ‘big girl quality time’ where you can talk about topics that might be concerning or upsetting her. This might sound like a trivial amount of time, but it will make all the difference in helping your five-year-old to feel happy about the new arrival, and be able to cope with all the changes that are taking place.

Also, I would always recommend that families try and appreciate that it is ‘early days’, so try and bear with it. Be patient and do your best to try to see it from her perspective even when you are feeling frustrated and probably tired. She is making huge adjustments too. She needs to learn to live with the shared attention, but at the same time, be reassured that she hasn’t been replaced.

I’m eleven weeks pregnant and we’re looking forward to being able to share our big news with friends and family after my scan next week. My husband thinks that it’s too early to tell our two-year-old son, but I think it’s better that he hears it from us first – who’s right?

I would recommend that it might be wise to wait until after your scan as the risk of miscarriage declines after the second trimester.

Telling him first will make him feel important, but be realistic and don’t expect him to keep it a secret. Once he knows, it will take planning to tell your friends and family without your two-year-old coming out with it first. Perhaps let him deliver the news if he promises to keep it a secret until the right time?

While explaining the arrival, try to find tangible ways to explain the timeframe using landmark dates such as Christmas, his birthday or visible seasonal changes like autumn “when the leaves start to fall”.

Organise a quiet time to answer questions honestly and don’t have the conversation during a stressful time when things are changing. This may take a little preparation but delivery is everything when it comes to children trying to understand such an emotive change.

Our son will be twenty-two months old when his baby sister arrives next month. We’ve read some books together about having a new baby in the house. What else can I do to help him understand?

It’s an exciting time for your twenty-two month old; he will most likely want to get involved in all of the baby activities. There are some considerations to be made to ensure he does not feel left out or stressed by the new arrival.

Here are my five top tips to make the transition a smooth one:
1. Take time out (even if it’s just ten minutes) to re-assure him that he is still just as important.
2. Talk about babies you see and the things they need. If you can, take time to explain about feeding times (whether breast or bottle) and make him part of the learning process.
3. Take time to talk about when he was a baby while looking at his old photos, if you have them to hand.
4. Explain what will happen when mummy goes into hospital; keep it age appropriate and light-hearted to prepare him for the special day.
5. Avoid changes to routines if possible to help him feel secure, ie don’t take on big steps, like potty training or moving to a big bed while things feel a little unsettled with the new baby.