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 because the new baby cries a lot, disrupts their sleep, or affects your family’s routines – for example, they might have 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 the things you love about them. You can also talk about how they make a special contribution to the family.
Involving school-age or teenage children with a new baby
It’s good to talk with your school-age or teenage child about being involved with the new baby. You can start these conversations even before the baby is born.
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 to get involved by:
- passing you the things you need to give the baby a bath or nappy change
- singing a song to the baby or playing peekaboo
- reading the baby a story
- sharing bath time
- playing gently with the 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 few days and then asking again.
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 activities than they are in babies. Over time, a bond will probably develop if you don’t push the children together.
Also, your teenage child 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 after a new baby arrives: how to handle it
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 doing arts and crafts, or going somewhere together – your child might like to choose.
- Use family mealtimes as a time to talk about what has happened during the day.