Preparing your child for a new baby

Posted on 25 February 2015

When your firstborn is used to being the centre of attention, introducing a little brother or sister to the mix can be a challenge. Here’s how to best prepare your child for a new baby.

‘Parents should be honest and share the news about expecting a newcomer to the family with sensitivity and enthusiasm,’ says CP de Jager, an educational and counselling psychologist at Mediclinic Emfuleni in Vanderbijlpark. ‘Always talk about what “we’re” going to do with the new baby so that children feel part of the process and don’t think the baby will take their place.’ This will help prevent any separation anxiety or insecurity children may experience.

Being sensitive to your child’s fluctuating reactions to the news of a new sibling is also important. ‘Children don’t process things at the speed we do or understand future implications. They may be very excited initially, but might later shift into more negative feelings with each new stage – pregnancy, birth and arrival at home,’ explains Lydia Batchelor, a clinical psychologist at Mediclinic Durbanville. ‘It’s important not to criticise negative feelings like envy and loss, but rather let your child express them. It’s very normal for children to experience these emotions as they go through huge shifts to the status quo.’

Easing the transition
Lydia offers the following practical tips to prepare your child for a new baby and ease the transition from a family of three to four:

• Don’t force your child to talk about how they feel – they often don’t even understand the way they feel themselves. Encourage them to draw a picture of the baby.
• Don’t reprimand or scold a child for expressing dislike at the unborn sibling.
• Be attuned to where your child is at developmentally and psychologically and look for resources such as books or TV programmes to help them understand the transitions that are coming in a child-minded and acceptable format.
• Get them involved where you can – in decorating the room, choosing toys and so on. Ask them things like: ‘Do you think your baby brother will like this toy? Who do you think he’ll look like? Do you think he’ll have your beautiful blue eyes?’
• Families often give ‘presents’ to the older sibling from the baby – little things like stickers can be so appreciated and go a long way to forming an initial bond.
• Tell the older child that if the baby grasps their finger and wraps his little hand around it, it means that he likes you already and wants to be friends – we know this will happen, so you’re off to a good start!
• Help family not to overlook the older child by suggesting something like: ‘Aunty Sue, this is Jack’s little brother, Joe! Jack, show Aunty Sue the noises Joe makes when he’s hungry!’
• It might also be helpful for dad to start cultivating a more hands-on approach with the older child if this hasn’t been happening prior to the pregnancy so that when mom is unavailable, it won’t be such a shock that dad’s now doing more of the child-care.
• Children are generally too overwhelmed by attending scans, so rather spend some time with them looking at the pictures (if they are not scared by the sonar images) or look at more child-friendly images. Talk about how the baby is developing each week.

The main thing is to handle it with casual ease, says CP de Jager. If you don’t feel sure about how to tackle a problem, seek professional help as quickly as possible.

The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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