When a new brother or a sister arrives on the scene existing children have some adjusting to do.
Generally, children between 18 months and three years old have the hardest time adjusting (children under 18 months have fewer problems because they don't realise how life is changing for them, and once past three, children generally handle frustrating situations better).
Of course, a new baby changes the life of everyone in the family, but at least parents know what to expect. Learning to love a new arrival, while sharing the previously exclusive attention of mum and dad, is a big ask for a small person. Parents spend a lot of energy on preparations, and after the baby arrives, much of their attention centres on caring for the newborn - little wonder existing children feel jealousy toward a newborn and react.
Some children may regress in their behaviour when a new sibling arrives, they may become more demanding or have more toilet accidents, or they may want to nurse again or go back to drinking from a bottle. Bedtime rituals may drag out or a child who has been sleeping in his own bed may suddenly want to sleep in mum and dad’s, especially if the baby is in that room.
These problems, while annoying, usually disappear in three to five months.
- Plan major changes (such as the move into a big kid’s bed, toilet training or beginning preschool) for well before the baby’s arrival - or several months down the track after new routines have been established.
- Have the toddler's routines well established so that they feel secure in the predictability of each day.
- Help older children find a role to play with their new sibling. Perhaps assistant caregiver, teacher, helper, or playmate.
- Babies seem to come into the world ready to adore their older siblings. Make sure older children know how important they are to their new brother or sister - it will give them a sense of pride and foster mutual enjoyment.
- When people admire the baby (which of course is natural) also include comments on how wonderful it is for them to have a big brother or sister and how lucky the baby is.
- Schedule some time alone each day with the toddler, even if it's just a 15-minute story while the baby is in someone else's arms. One-on-one time with the older child is the best antidote to fear of abandonment.
And, if the toddler just doesn't seem interested in the new baby, don't force it. They might need time to adjust and prepare by observing the baby from a distance for now.
Remember, they didn’t ask to become a big brother/sister.