One minute your child is the only one in the family – the next they’ve been ousted by a gurgling sibling. Clinical psychologist Dr Linda Blair gives her tips on how to help preschoolers start building that special bond
It’s no wonder the arrival of a new baby is a bit of a shock to your first-born child – suddenly, there’s a new person in the house, and they’re taking up a lot of mummy and daddy’s attention. Here’s how to help your toddler develop a bond with their new sibling:
1. Choose a gift from your baby
Know a gift that your toddler would love above all others? Make sure it comes with a gift tag saying that it’s from your baby. Lots of parents find this tactic can help soften up a suspicious toddler. “Your child starts to think, ‘Maybe this baby isn’t so bad after all,’” says Linda Blair, clinical psychologist and author of Birth Order (Piatkus).
2. Fend off any disappointment
Your toddler was probably expecting a ready-made playmate – so you’ll need to help them come to terms with the reality of life with a helpless baby sibling. “Help them realise that it could take a while before the baby can play with them,” says Linda. “And remind them that they couldn’t play when they were a baby either. Your child will see that they’re like the baby – but also, right now, different.”
3. Enrol your little helper
Give your child a chance to help out on little jobs involved with the baby – for example, passing you nappies, holding the wipes and shaking a rattle. “You’re giving them a chance to be rewarded because of the baby and that’s a good thing as they’ll feel more positive about them,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what the job is – the important thing is that your child will make a success of it so you can praise them accordingly.”
Do make sure you also include fun time with your older child. “Otherwise your child will learn that the only way they can get attention is by serving other people,” says Linda.
4. Hang on to some of the old routine
Life might be very different now but do still include some of your usual daily activity with your toddler, for example bathtime or a story together. It only needs to be for a few minutes a day. But what’s important is that you relax, don’t watch the clock – and that your baby isn’t in the room.
“If your baby’s there in any way – even if they’re asleep – you’ll look over and pay attention to them,” says Linda. “Remember this is your older child’s special moment with you. They need to realise that life is still okay if special time is still happening.”
5. Nurture their identity
An important step in helping your child to interact with others – including a little brother or sister – is to give them a sense of their own strengths. So boost your toddler’s self-esteem by praising them when they bring home a marvellous drawing from nursery or successfully tackle a new skill. “We all need to be who we are for ourselves,” says Linda. “Only in that way do we feel we can interact with other people.”
6. Let your toddler hold the baby
Giving your child the chance to touch your baby – whether it’s stroking your newborn’s hair or giving a supervised cuddle – is important too. “Touching releases oxytocin, a hormone which helps encourage bonding,” says Linda.
But do remember that all children are different and you don’t need to force this new relationship. “Children don’t have to spend lots of time together to bond,” says Linda. “There are so many other factors at play that dictate the pace of bonding, like how their personalities are developing and whether they are compatible.”
With any luck, they’ll become great friends.