Introducing a new baby to their older brother or sister

baby older brother

For their first few months or years, your firstborn is used to being your number one. You celebrate their every milestone (first solid poo? You've noted the date raised a proverbial glass to their incredible excretion skills) and your world inevitably revolves around them. When number two, or even three, comes along, then, the whirlwind of change can come as a big shock to their little system – there's someone else in need of mummy's attention, and they don't seem to going anywhere soon. Although it's unlikely you'll be able to foster sibling harmony from day one, there are ways you can help ease your firstborn into their new life phase of siblinghood.

Having a new baby brother or sister can make older siblings feel a little sidelined, no matter how much you shower them with affection and reassure them of your love. There are ways you can make them feel included and loved when they're confidence in their position in the family may have taken a knock.

Give the existing sibling a special role

Make your older child feel special by assigning them a role in relation to the new baby – eg first visitor, first to hold her, first bath assistant. Possibly don't give him the right to name her – unless you are relaxed about having a child called Darth Maul.

But don't force them to help out

If there is a significant age gap between your new baby and your older child, it's unlikely they'll want to be 'mummy's little nappy helper'. An 11-year-old might just want some space to process their feelings around the new arrival without being roped into organised bonding time. They'll come round eventually.

Allow him to grieve his only child-hood

If encouraging him to help out with the baby is not working, then it could be an idea to back off, listen to your child, allow him to have his feelings and keep giving him as much love and attention as you can until the baby begins to grow on him. Like adults, children need time to process change so it's important that they feel their feelings are being validated.

Remember that newborn babies are quite boring to children

While everyone is cooing over the new baby, your other child or children will probably be wondering what all the fuss is about – from their point of view, the baby is just a crying, pooing invasion on their space and relationship with mum and dad. So, it can help to point out the baby will get more fun and will become a playmate. Being the first person to make a baby laugh can be a breakthrough moment in the sibling relationship.

baby sister

Prime visitors to make a fuss of the older child as well as new baby.

There may be no getting around the fact that visitors have come to see the new arrival. But encourage them to give lots of attention to your older child or children, too. Perhaps suggest to them that they ask your older child to “show me your baby brother/sister.”

Expect and allow for some bitter feelings, confusion and some acting out from your older child

Drowning his baby dolls in the loo, planning ways of murdering his baby sister (be alert for actual implementation of fratricidal schemes). Your older child should know it's fine to be angry and jealous and it's OK not to like the baby; it's just not OK to try to kill her.

Give your older child lots of attention

You may have to leave the interloper newbie in her bouncy chair more than you would otherwise like in order to lavish sufficient attention on the older child (a sling is good for this kind of multi-tasking), but that's OK. Your new baby will love watching you interact with her older brother and your older child will feel as though they are just as important as the baby.

baby siblings

Try reading and feeding at the same time.

The older child does gradually need to learn that the baby is also a person who has rights and needs, but not necessarily immediately. Feeding your baby while reading to your older child can help him learn that mummy has time for both her children, but that there might be less one-on-one time.

Brave soft play

Playgroups, however little you may love them, give a toddler time to escape from baby and you some time to spend bonding. Your older child will be so happy racing around, they won't care that you're giving your new baby a whole lot of love.

Give the older child responsibilities and privileges for being older.

As well as asking your older child to help out with your baby (only ask them to do small, achievable tasks and don't rely on them for actual childcare help), give him small privileges to make him feel special.

Amplify any small act of kindness from older child to baby and praise them for it.

When your older child brings the baby a toy, make a big fuss out of how kind/generous he is. If he gives her head a little pat, so the same. He'll want to get your approval, so by encouraging him to be kind and praising him for it, he'll likely start to do nice things for the baby by default.

Emphasise the older child's greater advantages and the baby's admiration for her

Remind your child how much the baby looks up to him and is constantly learning from him by saying, “look she is watching you do that. She can't walk/talk/eat a biscuit like you. She thinks you are amazing” or, “she smiles at you because she thinks you are great/funny”. Obviously, this only works for smallish age gaps – your 10-year-old may look at you with disdain.

What Mumsnetters say about sibling reactions to a new baby

On about the third night after another bout of the baby crying, he just lost it – someone, something had invaded his space, he couldn't sleep himself, couldn't bear the crying… he got up and ran out of the bedroom, hands over his ears, and of course I held him then and the tears just poured and poured. That was our turning point. He was much less difficult afterwards. I think that night of me repeating over and over how much I loved him and was sorry and understood, must have helped a little bit as he was 'with' me again. I really had felt as though I had lost him.

What often works for us is an 'adult to adult' type moment: I'll raise my eyebrows at my older daughter as her baby sister does something naughty, or downright mad, and we'll both sigh together. It perversely makes DD1 more tolerant of DD2. Momentarily including your daughter in the adult world and sharing your exasperation about something the baby is doing may actually be more effective than trying to persuade her the baby is fun, which she simply knows right now isn't true.