Becoming a big brother or sister can be very exciting for many children, and at the same time a little scary. They may be wondering how life will change for them in both positive and negative ways. Some children as they get older prefer being an only child, while others long for a sibling. In this article we will explore what it means for children when one parent has a new baby – meaning they are now the big brother or sister – and what issues this can raise for children from separated families.
- Often very young children don’t understand what is happening until the baby arrives home and they see their parent holding it. At times they think the baby will be going back to where it came from, and it can be a shock when they realise the baby is staying and maybe even sleeping in their old cot.
- If the baby will not be living with the child full-time, it can create a variety of responses from the child. The child may be very keen to stay with the new baby, to protect it. It can feel like it is their baby at times. So parting and returning to the other parent may be very difficult for them.
- For other children, the new baby may pose a treat. Now they have to share the parent not only with a new step parent/partner but also with a new sibling. When will they get quality time? This can cause a feeling of unsettlement for children of all ages.
- It is important for all the parents – both biological and step-parents – to try and build in quality time with the first child. It is crucial to help them see they have a very valued place in the family and that their needs are still very important.
- Children can at times feel abandoned and neglected during separations, particularly at times when adult needs become more prominent and take over. Hopefully by the time a new baby is arriving, things will have settled down and children are feeling more secure in the new relationships that have formed. It is key when a new baby arrives to ensure that the child does not again experience these feelings, whereby their needs were not at the forefront of family life.
- It is important also to give your child good, positive language to describe the changes in their family to friends and other family members. ‘Half brother’ or ‘Half sister’ are not the most preferred terms as a person they describe would not feel happy about being ‘half’ of something. It may be better to just support them to say they have a new sister/brother. Then they can go on explain that Daddy or Mammy have this baby. As parents, we can help our children to understand blended families as they get older. Once they have an understanding and a positive experience they will flourish.
- Help the child to understand their unique bond with this child. I know it can be hard for parents to accept when the other parent moves on and has more children, but the baby exists and will always have a bond to your child. Try to be open and support the relationship. Try not to see this as a threat.
- Often parents and older children ask why the other parent had more children. They may feel they already struggled to have time for the first born, but this is life and things are not always planned or thought out. There may be issues around maintenance as now money has to go further to support the new baby. Your child may be getting less. Again you may need to sit and talk with the other parent about the impact this will have and try to reach agreement, as the courts will usually allow a person provide the best they can for each child. The first born will not get preference.
- The quality time a child shares with the other parent may be reduced when a baby is born. You would hope this to be very temporary, as otherwise the older child is being set up to resent the new baby. As parents, it is up to us to try not to give one child less attention when a new baby arrives. This can be difficult, maybe you can try and get others to help with the newborn. This will allow you time to support your older child to know they are very valued within your life and extending family.
- When children are having time with the other parent, we can expect that it will be one to one time. Parents may request the new child not to be part of this time. While it is important for children to have one to one quality time with parents, we must remember that children also need to be immersed into their parent’s new family form. It will be hard for them to understand and adjust, no matter what the age, but if this is what the family is going to be, then why try and make it different? At times it may be for the parents’ benefit to exclude other new family but really children can often adapt positively and smoothly to new experiences. What matters most is how they are parented and supported with the changes. It is about keeping their needs central, and for both parents to have a focus on meeting the child’s needs first and foremost.
This ’10 Ways to’ article is by One Family’s Director of Children & Parenting Services, Geraldine Kelly, as part of our weekly ’10 Ways to’ series of parenting tips. You can read the full series here.
Next you might like to read: 10 Ways to Address Sibling Rivalry
LIVE Facebook Q&A with Geraldine on this topic Tuesday 21 July from 10am-11pm in our NEW One Family Parenting Group which is a closed Facebook group (meaning that only members can read posts) that anyone can join. Post your questions and share your experiences.
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