Helping Your Child Prepare to Be a Big Brother/Sister 

Published on: February 11, 2020

Having another child can be both exciting and quite stressful at the same time. Here are some tips for preparing the family, especially the elder sibling, for the arrival of baby brother/sister. By Abhasiri Chutikul     Many parents that I’ve worked with shared that their firstborn is sometimes not too thrilled about their new baby brother/sister. Some mothers have shared with me the feeling of being tired, overwhelmed and worried about how they are going to manage their time with more than one child.   As an elder sister and having worked with families for the past nine years, as well as growing up with friends that have siblings, I have come to appreciate the experiences of having more than one child in the family for each individual involved. I would, therefore, like to offer some strategies in preparing your eldest child for a sibling.

Being aware of your child’s developmental stage

Note your child’s age when he/she is expecting the arrival of his/her sibling. Older children (about 5 years of age) may be more receptive to the news of a sibling than a toddler.  Read up on the developmental stage of your child — especially their social skills, emotional understanding, and their language skills — in order to prepare them for their sibling.

For younger children

For example, if your child is 2 years old, it may not be enough to just tell them that “mummy is pregnant and in a few months you will have a brother or sister,” as their level of understanding of language is not there to process abstract concepts such as time and what pregnancy is. A more appropriate approach would be to be as concrete as possible in your explanations. For example, sit your child down and draw a picture of a baby in mummy’s tummy. Take time to explain to your child that “mummy has a baby in her tummy and in a few sleeps, this baby will be your brother/sister. He/she will be very small at first but will grow to be just as big as you one day.”

For kindergarten-age children and up

For older children who are kindergarten or school-aged, it may be sufficient to tell them that “mummy has a baby in her tummy and you are getting a brother/sister.” Involve your child in the planning of their sibling’s arrival, such as asking them what color bedding they think their sibling would like to allow them a sense of control with the process. 

Separation anxiety for younger children

Another developmental aspect is in regards to coping with being separated from their motherChildren from the ages of 8 months to around 18 months start to develop a sense of self and separation anxiety. It is normal for children this age to get anxious when they are separated from their main caregiver. If that is their mother, the time away from her can be very daunting. They are still very self-centered and anything that is an obstacle to getting attention and love from their mother can appear as a threat. They have not yet developed abstract thinking, therefore it may take a bit of imagination to explain to them how the bump on mummy’s tummy will transfer into a little human like them.  Separation anxiety can last until about 4 years of age for some children. Therefore, the approach to inform them and manage their expectations of how the household will change upon the arrival of the new baby is very important.   

Fostering positive feelings towards an upcoming sibling

Sometimes parents can take it personally when their child says that they don’t want a brother or sister and that they will not love them. However, these feelings may actually be feelings towards having to share their parents. Their mum and dad are their world for young children and the thought of having to share that love and attention can be very upsetting. Again, remember your child’s developmental stage. You can’t expect a 2-year-old to understand the concept of sharing and readily accept it, because they are not ready to process such skills.  Children also need a sense of security and consistency. Having an additional child in the house can disrupt that order for them. They would need help to adjust to the new routines. Therefore, to foster positive feelings in this experience, I recommend parents to allow and encourage your child to be part of their pregnancy journey. 
  • Parents can ask their child to help pick bedding for their siblings and/ or toys they would like to share with their sibling. Make sure that if your child wants to keep something for themselves, allow them to as you don’t want to create a feeling that their sibling will take away everything from them. 
  • Be clear what changes are to be expected. It’s better to let your child know that mummy may need to feed the baby a few times a day or will need to be at the hospital for a few days when the baby arrives. This way you can minimize surprises and prevent emotional outbursts and avoid having to deal with your child getting upset when you have to take time out to feed the baby. 
  • Have a visual pregnancy calendar and get your child to count down the days until their sibling arrives 
  • Create a social story about having a new member in the family. The story can include the following key messages: love will grow bigger and parents will not love their child any less, things will change in the house, and your child will have a friend to play with.  
  • Try to be open to questions and give answers using language and context they will understand
  • If you have a baby album of your child, it may be a good idea to go through the album with them so they can visually see and understand how they have grown. Then both you and your child can create a baby album cover ready for their sibling together.
  • Plan your time to make sure that you have about 5–10 minutes a day to spend in one-on-one quality time with your child after their sibling is born, in order to maintain that positive attachment with your child. Try to plan out what time of the day you could spend with your eldest child before the baby comes, as things can get quite hectic and overwhelming right after birth. 

Accept that there may be negative feelings

It’s important to accept your child’s negative feelings and comments. If they share their negative emotions about having a sibling, parents can acknowledge their emotions and provide an alternative thought to them. For example, they might say, “mummy but I don’t want my brother/sister to take all my toys.” A possible response to that comment can be “I can hear you are scared your brother/sister will take all your toys, that can’t be a nice feeling. But you know what? Maybe you can teach them how to play with those toys since you have played it before, then you can play it together.” Negative feelings are natural and shouldn’t be stopped, but adults can help children identify them and find coping strategies for them.    Lastly, although I did suggest that you get your child involved in the pregnancy process, try not to overburden your eldest child with responsibilities. Your child is still a child and needs to have fun, play, make mistakes, and get upset sometimes. Allowing your child to express their feelings towards the change in the family while being a part of the planning process will encourage a healthy attachment between you and your child, as well as between your children. Having a sibling can give a child many positive experiences such as having constant play dates and opportunities to practice social and play skills, and to have someone that is similar to them to share their secrets with when they grow older.   If you are reading this article and are expecting a child. Congratulations!  I hope you have a smooth pregnancy and enjoy creating memories with your little ones and the rest of your family.   

About the Author

Abhasiri (Oom) Chutikul is a Play Therapist and Early Intervention Specialist. She has been working with children and teenagers with social skills, emotional and behavioral issues in Thailand since she graduated in Australia in 2012. In 2016, she became a certified play therapist through Leeds Beckett University, UK, and in 2019 completed her master’s thesis on the effects of play therapy in siblings of children with autism. She also supports families through coaching parents on attachment, behavioral and emotional management.
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