When Mum brings home a new brother or sister...
The arrival of a new baby is bound to shift the balance of a family. Existing children may feel excited about having a brother or sister but they will almost certainly feel jealous and resentful as well, no matter how much we don’t want them to.
Playing down their resentment may make them feel bad or guilty, which can increase tension and worsen their feelings of being pushed out. Trying to stop their jealousy is less successful than finding ways to help them cope with the coming changes.
Start by making sure that all existing relationships are as secure as they can be. Build up parts of your children’s life that are independent of you, but don’t introduce major changes, like potty training or starting at nursery, near the due date. If you are still breastfeeding, stop as soon as you can.
As childcare expert Penelope Leach says, they won’t like it, but they will cope and one day they will even be glad you did it.
Don’t feel tempted to tell your children too early. Six months to a toddler is like a lifetime. You’ll find they don’t notice your ballooning belly – until they start slipping off your lap – so leaving it until six months or more is good if you can get away with it. But make sure no one else tells them first. The news must come from you.
In the mean time, spend time with families that have babies, point out who has brothers and sisters, and read stories about babies together.
Once you’ve broken the news, involve them as much as you can: let them feel the baby kicking and talk to it if they want to. Talk about what babies are like and what they can do. Show them pictures of themselves as babies and talk about funny things they did.
It’s best not to tell them that this is going to be a new brother or sister to play with. It isn’t. All it will do at first is feed, sleep, cry and fill nappies.
It’s a long time before it will become a playmate. Emphasise that it’s your baby not theirs and that it will be part of the family. They may be feeling anxious that you won’t love them as much after the baby’s born so let them know they will always be special to you. But don’t tell them they have to be mummy’s big girl or boy now, as grown-up may be the last thing they are feeling.
Plan arrangements for the time of the birth but beware of making promises such as assuring them they’ll be able to come to the hospital to see you or that you’ll be home the next day. If your partner or parents are going to be doing more of the childcare, get them to spend more time with the children beforehand and make sure they understand their likes and dislikes.
And when you do come home, make sure someone else is holding the baby if you can. Your children will be far more excited about seeing you than seeing the new addition, so take time to greet and cuddle them.