And baby makes four – or more!

A two to four year age gap between siblings is thought to create the most jealousy. Parenting expert Eileen Hayes gives indispensible tips on how to help the family prepare for and enjoy the new arrival.

Oh brother! (or sister!)

It is always hugely exciting when a new baby comes along. With a first baby, there is the anxiety of wondering if you can cope, because it is all new. When baby joins an existing family of one or more children, you may be less worried about managing baby care, since experience tells you that you can at least muddle through. But, there is probably the fresh anxiety of wondering how your older child will adjust to the new arrival, and how your children will get along as they grow up.


It’s very common for older children to take a couple of steps back in development. They may become more whiny or tearful, wet the bed or ask for your help to do things they could previously manage alone


While pregnant, it is normal to have these concerns, and not want your older child to be upset by the change. However, once the tiny baby arrives, it is only too easy to suddenly see your older child as very large and a bit of a threat! It’s important to guard against showing this, as it can create problems for the older sibling, who was your “baby”, feeling pushed out.

Getting off to the right start

It is the adult’s decision to have another baby. Some children may be as happy as you are about the new arrival, others may not share your enthusiasm.

Most children will eventually be pleased about the baby, particularly if they are involved and not excluded. Let your older child meet the new baby as soon as possible, and try to have your hands free for a cuddle with your older child when you first see them after the birth. Some parents have a small gift ready “from the baby” and the older child can choose a soft toy or other gift to give.

Helpful tips

  • Keep a close eye when your older child is with the baby - show how to touch gently: it is not unusual to pinch or poke the baby when he thinks no- one is looking! Hugging too tight or kissing too hard to “love “the baby is also very common. Be patient, as these behaviours show the upset he feels and his confusing feelings for the baby.
  • It really helps if you can take some time every day to spend one to one with older children, so they can be the centre of attention again and feel you still love them just as much as before. Although you're busy with the new baby, it is really important to keep this up regularly. It might be reading together while you’re breastfeeding or playing together when the baby is asleep.
  • Some children like to help by fetching nappies or toys or bringing the baby clothes as you need them –never force this, but encourage and praise your child when she joins in.

Difficult behaviour in an older child – what you might see

It is quite likely your older child will feel a bit put out and upset to begin with, though sometimes this happens later on, when the baby is clearly here to stay! Lots of small children ask when the baby is going back.

Finding it hard to cope with the change can show itself in more tantrums, or sleep or feeding problems, or just being extra clingy and demanding.

It is very common for older children to take a couple of steps back in development. They may become more whiny or tearful, wet the bed or ask for your help to do things they could previously manage alone.

They might:

  1. Ask you to dress them or carry them again.
  2. Demand to sleep in a cot after having moved to a bed.
  3. Go backwards on toilet training.
  4. Want a dummy or bottle back.

From an older child’s point of view, babies look like they have a great deal! They yell, everything is done for them, and absolutely everyone seems to think they’re wonderful. No wonder your big kid wants to act like one! The more you can sympathise and go along with this, giving some “babying” for a while, the more quickly it is likely to be over. Try to accept that it's a normal reaction to your new baby arriving and will lessen as family life settles into a new routine.

Helpful tips

  • Try to act calmly and sympathetically – set boundaries and stick to them - getting angry only makes behaviour worse.
  • Explain that you won't use up all your love on the baby! Small children may not understand that your affections can be shared, and need reassurance they still mean as much to you.
  • Showing children photographs and tell stories of when they were a baby - this can help them realise they had a turn.
  • Show that there are some advantages to being the big sister or brother. Let your older child have some special treats, pointing out they are just for them: going to bed later, reading with mum or dad, watching a favourite DVD. Remind that the baby doesn’t have these.
  • Ask grandparents and other visitors to remember to give attention to your older child, not just the baby .It can be very hurtful if they suddenly lose interest in a child who was previously the apple of everybody’s eye. A small gift and some extra cuddles and attention when they visit the baby really help.
  • Be reassuring – giving lots of comfort if your child seems worried or upset.
  • Cheat a bit –say that the baby seems to love her best as she can make him smile!

Preventing problems by planning ahead

  • You can work to reduce jealous feelings in older children even before the birth.
  • Cut out the suspense: Tell them you're having a baby, but not too soon, as nine months can seem very far off to a small child. Read books together about having a new baby, or use a doll to practise.
  • Don’t exaggerate having a companion to play with, as that is a long way off. Explain what babies are really like. They need tons of attention, and they cry a lot, as it's their main way of communicating.
  • Promote the role of big brother or sister. Explain that she will be the new baby’s teacher, and go over all the things like eating, walking and climbing that she has learnt to do, and can help teach the new baby.
  • Avoid stressful changes to routine close to the birth, moving from a cot to a big bed, starting new childcare or tackling toilet training
  • Encourage your child to help prepare for the baby: getting the nursery ready, choosing names or shopping for baby clothes.

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