The prospect of a new baby's arrival may feel parents with joy. But what about the older toddler? Is it inevitable that there will be sibling rivalry and jealousy when the new baby joins the family? Though this is a common worry among parents, in fact resentment among siblings (brothers and sisters) is not the normal experience. For most children, it is a delight to welcome a little brother or sister to play with.
Of course, this excited expectation of a playmate can itself be the source of difficulty. We can fill toddlers with high expectations of fun times with the baby, only for there to be great disappointment when the newborn does little more than eat, sleep and fill nappies. Explain that playing together will only be possible after the baby has grown a little, and show your older child photos of herself as a tiny newborn so she knows what to expect – though all this will be hard for a little one to take in. Look together at story or picture books about families with a new baby.
Your toddler will love being included in the preparations for the new baby. She can help select baby clothes and nursery items and join in discussion of baby names. She may like to decide which toys to share with the baby, though it's important not to make her share ones which are precious to her.
Sometimes a toddler faces several changes at once when a baby arrives, such as moving bedroom or starting nursery. These can make her feel pushed out. It helps if possible to make the changes as early as possible. Moving into another room can become a treat rather than a displacement if handled as a fun, grown-up move. Help her make some choices, eg with colour scheme and perhaps new items in the room. If baby will be sharing the room with the toddler, make sure the older child's space is special and distinct.
Time for two
A new baby demands so much attention that the older child can feel pushed out. This can lead to attention-seeking through being aggressive to the baby, whining or throwing a tantrum. On the other hand, parents can be so aware of this issue that they over-compensate and the baby may miss out. Try to find opportunities to create time alone with each of them. In a two-parent family, the parents might take turns to go out with each of the children alone. Or arrange for someone to look after the baby while you and the older child have an outing to the shops or park or have play time together at home.
Without meaning to do so, it's easy for an exhausted mother to fill a toddler with the idea that baby is a nuisance in the family. Telling the toddler that mummy is too tired to play with her, or that the baby is demanding so much attention that she hasn't time to read a story, could lead the youngster to decide that the baby is spoiling everything, leading to sibling resentment. It helps if you can include the toddler when life gets busy, asking her help in passing the nappy, or her advice on what she thinks will help stop baby crying. Positive words help a small child make sense of all the changes that a new baby brings into daily life.
Amazingly quickly, that helpless new baby will begin watching her older sibling, and the toddler will be delighted to make her laugh, teach her to play and keep her entertained. They do, of course, need watching. Play can become rough, and the older sibling may find it fun to teach the younger one to get into mischief such as tearing things up or drawing on walls – and pass on the blame!