By Raising Children Network
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Toddler holding her newborn baby sibling credit iStockphotos.com/Sean_Warren

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  • Difference in age isn’t a big factor in predicting how close siblings will be. 
  • Children older than 3-4 years might adjust better, but toddlers can also form a strong bond with a new sibling.
 
When a new baby joins your family, children might feel excited – but also a bit left out. Giving them lots of love, time and attention helps lay the groundwork for a positive relationship with their new sibling.

Helping toddlers and preschoolers feel positive about a new baby

When a new baby comes, children (especially toddlers) might feel you’re giving all your attention and love to the new baby. If you can be sensitive to these feelings, listen and show lots of affection, it shows your other children you’re still there for them. It also helps them feel secure.

Even though you’ll be busy with the new baby, try to spend some one-on-one time with your other children.

This can also be a good time for them to enjoy extra attention from their other parent or a close family member, perhaps going to the park or reading a story together.

Most children will be curious about the new baby, so let them gently touch their new sibling – but always be there to supervise. Young children often don’t know their own strength or understand how they can hurt someone else.

You could involve your children in caring for the baby − at bath time, for example, they could get some bath things ready or help dry the baby afterwards.

If you also explain to your other children that they don’t have to do too much, it helps to keep things fun and positive. For example, if they’ll be sharing a room with the baby, let them know that you’ll take care of things when the baby cries in the night.

Breastfeeding and your other children

If you’ll be breastfeeding, it can help to think about how your other children might respond.

Here are some ideas for making breastfeeding a special time for all your children:

  • While the baby is feeding, give your children a favourite toy, activity or task. You might like to keep a special box of toys aside for them to enjoy at these times.
  • Your other children are likely to be curious about breastfeeding and might want to watch while you feed the new baby. While they watch, you can explain that breastfeeding is a natural part of life. You can tell your children how the milk will help the baby grow strong and healthy.
  • Children might tend to hover nearby during feeding, or even try to climb into your lap. If they want to be close, use this time to tell them a story, read them a book, or watch while they draw you a picture or play with a toy.
  • Try listening to your children’s favourite music or some recorded children’s stories with your other children while you’re breastfeeding.

It’s common for toddlers and even preschoolers to ask for a breastfeed at some point. How you respond is up to you.

Usually, children who are no longer breastfed will find the experience too strange to try more than once and won’t be interested in more than a quick experiment.

If you’d prefer your child didn’t try it, you can explain that breastmilk is made especially for babies, then offer a special drink or snack babies can’t have. You could also distract your child with another activity, or even offer a taste of breastmilk from a cup. 

To encourage your children to get along, give them all lots of positive attention. By doing this, you’re showing them how you’d like them to treat each other – and they’ll do as you do.

Challenging behaviour from toddlers and preschoolers

It’s common for toddlers and preschoolers to act up during a new baby’s first year of life.

Changes in behaviour might include:

  • crying, yelling and even asking for the baby to be sent back
  • going back to being a baby – for example, forgetting toilet training, needing help when eating or dressing or wanting to be rocked to sleep
  • attention-seeking behaviour, especially when your attention is focused on the baby – for example, at feeding time
  • refusing to nap or go to bed and waking during the night 
  • being angry or annoying around the new baby.

Challenging behaviour is a cry for attention. Your children aren’t being naughty on purpose – they just want that one-on-one time they’re used to.

Tips for dealing with challenging behaviour
You can encourage everyone to get along and help your children by:

  • praising good behaviour 
  • telling your children how much they have learned and grown since they were babies
  • involving children in caring for the new baby – this lets you spend time together, and encourages them to see themselves as big sisters or brothers who help look after the little one
  • dealing with children’s behaviour with patience and understanding – as far as possible, be sympathetic rather than critical.
 
 
 
  • Last updated or reviewed 17-06-2014
  • Acknowledgements This article was developed in collaboration with Emma Little, developmental and educational psychologist.