Sea change

A new baby is coming, which means undertaking a big — and important — task of helping the big brother- or sister-to-be.

No matter how old they are, getting your first child used to the idea of having a sibling is an important part of growing your family. Transitioning to a bigger household is a challenge, but with care and attention, you can help your first child to adapt. 

To begin, talk with your first child about what it means to have a sibling. Parul Shah, a psychotherapist with Embracing Empowerment Counselling Services, encourages parents to talk with their child frankly and to reassure them. “Be honest, using language your oldest can understand. For instance, if your oldest is two, and they know that the baby will take up a lot of time and energy, tell them that you will always have time for them.” Set up play date for the two of you, or read a book about being the oldest. Older children can be included in the preparations for baby. Sharing insights with your first child can create a special bond, says Shah.

You need to be intentional about making time for your first child. Queenswood-Pinecrest EarlyON registered early childhood educators Waffa El-Haddad and Valerie Marsh have some advice: “Life with two children can be busy, so go for quality over quantity. Try to find a few minutes to play with the older child uninterrupted; even if it’s just a short time, be present with your child. Later in the day, let them know that the time was special. For example, at bedtime you could say, ‘I really enjoyed building a block tower with you today. Let’s do it again tomorrow.’”

Time management is your friend, says Shah. “Set designated times with your oldest.” As you build new routines for your family, keep your first child involved. “Turn the things you have to do anyway into fun moments to connect,” suggests El-Haddad. For example: 

  • When you are getting in the car, you can get baby settled in the car seat first and then take some time to get your older child ready in a fun way that builds connection.  
  • Play a game while you get dressed, like I Spy, sing their favourite song, or have a little tickle time.  
  • Invite your child to help with the baby, if they’re interested. They can get the diapers for you, pass the wipes, sing to the baby, or even feed them if appropriate.  
  • Your child may also enjoy having their own baby doll or stuffy to take care of. You can feed your babies or give them a bath together. 
  • If your child isn’t interested in helping with the baby, you can comment on their play while you attend to the baby, or point out fun things that you and your child can do together now that they are older.

It’s natural for your first child to struggle with having a new sibling, and this might show up in their behaviour. “Be prepared for your child to have mixed feelings,” says Marsh. ‘It’s important for them to feel like their feelings are valid and understood.  Avoid putting too much pressure on them to love the new baby. To maintain a sense of normalcy for your first child and send the message that you both can handle the changes, try to keep the same routines, limits, and expectations as before. Keep in mind, it is the relationship you’re building with your child that matters and not the behaviour they exhibit.”

Shah lists behaviours to watch out for, including: “regressions of any kind,” such as a desire to drink from a bottle, thumb-sucking, tantrums, refusing to eat unless you feed them; anxiousness around potty training; requesting to be in pullups or diapers; or trouble sleeping. “Any of these signs would indicate that your first born is expressing their fear of not being your priority anymore,” adds Shah. “Your first child may struggle to share the attention, fear the loss of parental affection, or be confused about how they fit into the family with a new baby.”

El-Haddad and Marsh remind parents that it is important to know that this behaviour is normal, and it will pass.  “Young children haven’t fully developed their ability to reason, regulate, express themselves through language, or see other people’s perspectives.  Acting out is how they tell us they need our help,” says Marsh. If, for example, your child is using baby talk, avoid shaming them or pressuring them to act like a big kid, but don’t indulge them. “Giving too much attention to the behaviour can make it last longer as attention — even negative attention — which is what your child is likely seeking,” says El-Haddad. 

“Most importantly, be kind to yourself,” says Marsh. “This is an adjustment for everyone.  There will be some bumps — be patient.”   


Relevant books 

  • I am a Big Brother/ I am a Big Sister, by Caroline Jayne 
  • My New Baby, by Rachel Fuller 
  • I am Going to be a Big Brother, by Mindy Core 
  • A New Baby is Coming, by Emily Menendez-Aponte 
  • But I Wanted a Baby Brother, by Kate Feiffer  
  • My New Sibling, by Tom Easton 
  • I’m a Big Sister/ I’m a Big Brother, by Joanna Cole 
  • Waiting for Baby, by Rachel Fuller