By Raising Children Network
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Boy holding his newborn baby sibling credit

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Sibling rivalry is at its strongest when the gap between children is around two years. When there’s a larger gap between children, there might be less rivalry. 
When you have a new baby, school-age children and teenagers might have many different and mixed feelings. Here are some practical ideas for helping children and teenagers adjust to having a new sibling.

How children and teenagers might feel about a new baby

If you have school-age children and teenagers and you’ve welcomed a new baby, your older children might be going through lots of different feelings.

For example, they might feel:

  • excited about having a newborn in the family – they might want to help care for, cuddle and play with the baby
  • disappointed because the reality of a newborn is different from their ideas of what it would be like
  • jealous because they have to share your attention with the new baby
  • annoyed and resentful at the new baby’s crying and disrupted sleep, and the impact of the baby on your family’s routines – for example, having to do extra chores or wait to go to sporting or social activities
  • embarrassed if they’re the only ones among their friends with a newborn sibling, especially if they’re teenagers.

All children have to make adjustments when a new baby joins the family. If your older child’s initial reaction to the baby isn’t positive, it might help to know that a positive sibling relationship will eventually develop – usually by the time the baby has reached about 14 months. 

If you can make this a positive and exciting time, your school-age or teenage child will feel that the change is about everybody in the family and not just about the new baby. You can let your children know that they have an important role in the family by talking often about all the wonderful things you love about them, who they are and how they make their own special contribution to the family.

How to involve school-age or teenage children with a new baby

It’s always good to start by talking with your school-age or teenage child.

Your child might have some ideas to share about how she’d like to be involved with the new baby. And even if she doesn’t have any ideas, just making the time to talk about the situation shows your child that you care and that you think her feelings are important.

Primary school-age children
Your primary school-age child might like get involved by:

  • passing you the things you need to give baby a bath or nappy change
  • singing a song to baby or playing peekaboo
  • reading baby a story
  • sharing bath time
  • playing gently with baby.

If your child decides he wants to get involved, praise will help him feel good about having a go and encourage him to do it again. If your child isn’t interested in helping, try waiting for a day or two and then asking again.

Teenage children
Your teenage child might like to be involved in more active care of the baby – for example, watching or playing with baby while you cook dinner.

But it’s normal for teenagers to be more interested in their own lives, friends and other activities than they are in babies. Over time, a bond will probably develop if you don’t push the children together.

Also, your teenager might not want to babysit or change nappies. She’s more likely to want to be involved if she feels that it isn’t a chore, so try not to push her into doing things. 

Emphasising your teenage child’s age and maturity can encourage him to feel more responsible and motivated to help.

Challenging behaviour

Your school-age or teenage child might ‘act out’ to get your attention if she feels she’s getting less of your time and attention after the new baby comes. She might get more upset, or become more frustrated, withdrawn or attention-seeking.

Making some one-on-one time each day can help. It gives your child the chance to have his say about what’s bothering him.

Here are some tips for making the most of one-on-one time with older children and teenagers:

  • Try to set aside some time each day to talk with your child without interruption.
  • Try to organise some fun activities alone with your child if possible, like going to a cafe or shopping.
  • Use family mealtimes as a time to talk about what has happened during the day.
  • Last updated or reviewed 17-06-2014
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Emma Little, developmental and educational psychologist.