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|Every family looks different, and every family has a different level of involvement and support from wider family members, including parents, in-laws, siblings, uncles and aunts, and cousins.|
This page provides information on how to manage changing family dynamics following the arrival of a new child. This could include kinship care (where a close family member takes responsibility for looking after your child), support for helping children adjust after a new baby arrives, and maintaining relationships with parents and in-laws. This information comes from a range of sources, including NCT and Kinship Carers Liverpool.
Are you a grandparent, relative or family friend bringing up someone else’s child?
Many grandparents, relatives and family friends bring up other people’s children, helping the family stay together. If you are one of these kinship carers playing this vital role in our community, Kinship Carers are here to help you.
Kinship care is where a child or young person lives full-time with a relative or family friend because they are not able to live with their birth parents. Thousands of people care for children because their birth parents are unable to do so.
Kinship care is also known as ‘family and friends care’, ‘connected care’, ‘relative care’ or kincare and has always been with us. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins and close friends have always come forward to keep children in the family when there is a crisis or breakdown of relationships. There are growing numbers of people who are becoming kinship carers – with an estimated 180,000 children in the care of relatives in the UK (University of Bristol Research, 2017).
The term kinship care covers a variety of situations:
- Informal or private kinship arrangement between parents and relatives
- Registered private foster care
- Local authority foster care with family and friends (Family & Friends Foster Care)
- Kinship Care with Residence Order, Special Guardianship Order, Adoption Order or Child Arrangements Order.
- You can find more details about each of these on KC's Legal Advice & Option page
Whatever happens, there will be a period of adjustment for your oldest child when their baby sibling is born. Here’s how to manage it when they feel left out or jealous.
The arrival of a new brother or sister can be unsettling for a toddler. After all they are used to having your undivided attention.
You might find that your toddler isn't as happy and excited about your new baby as you are. Some find it difficult to adjust while others accept the new arrival easily. Here’s how to handle the jealousy…
1. Get your toddler involved
You could ask your toddler to pass you the bottle for a feed. You could see whether they will hold the cotton wool while you change their little brother or sister’s nappies. You could even try to persuade them to entertain their sibling with songs in the back seat if they’re upset in their car seat.
Your toddler will love having tasks and feel much more part of things. You will need to guide them as a child's interpretation of a situation may be inaccurate and you should be aware not to expect too much of them.
2. Put your toddler first sometimes
No matter how much you would normally go to your newborn first, a few occasions of putting your baby second can work wonders.
Try ‘telling’ the baby they’ll have to wait to get their nappy changed while you get their older sibling’s snack. You could put the baby on the play mat while you play dollhouse with their big brother or sister. Anything that shows them that right now, at this second, they are number one.
3. Acknowledge their point of view
Being ‘in it together’ with the occasional acknowledgement of their views can make a whole world of difference. Acknowledgements like ‘Yeah, babies do cry a lot don’t they?’ or ‘I bet you wish sometimes we could hang out alone’ will let them know you get it.
Parents who develop open, participative communication with their children help their children to manage stress well. That helps them to develop resilience.
4. Be prepared for toddlers hitting or other aggression
Yep, however much you hate it, probably your toddler will at some point turn on their sibling. One study found 46% of children said they had been victims of sibling aggression, while 35.6% admitted they had been aggressive to their siblings.
Toddlers might throw a toy at their sibling, pinch them or hit them. And you’re likely to be tempted to shout at them. The thing is: that was kind of their aim. Instead, give your attention to making sure the baby is ok and then they’ll think that was a waste of time and (hopefully) not bother again.
Positive parenting and good relationships within the family reduce levels of aggression. Yet harsh parenting is associated with increased levels of aggression. You could try to encourage your eldest to talk about any anger or jealousy they feel towards their younger sibling. These are normal emotions and it is better for them to talk about them than to bottle them up.
5. Don’t compare your toddler with your newborn
Asking your older child why they can’t be more like their baby brother or sister is unnecessary and unhelpful. Don’t be tempted – even when you’re tired and stressed out.
6. Stay alert with toddlers for a while when you have a newborn
Much as it would be lovely to be able to leave your children alone together and know they’d be fine, this is the real world. For a while, you’ll have to be close to hand to know that your older child won’t hurt your baby – even accidentally – when you’re not there to monitor.
Children under the age of four are most at risk of an accident at home. Many accidents are caused by horseplay, involving pushing, shoving and wrestling.
Other things to be careful about are heavy objects, such as furniture and televisions, being pushed or pulled over on to younger babies or children. Children might see sets of drawers as ideal climbing frames but they can pull over easily if unsecured. Children can also swallow, inhale or choke on items like small toys, peanuts and marbles.
If your toddler begs to hold his new sibling, sit your toddler on the floor on a soft surface and help them to support the baby.
7. Get help with the baby so you can spend one-on-one time with your older child
Nothing can make your older child feel better about their feelings towards their sibling than hanging out with you and you alone. If you’re breastfeeding and can’t leave your newborn for long, even a quick trip to the park can make them feel they’ve got your undivided attention again.
The quality of the parent–child relationship at home can influence cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes for pre-school children.
8. Point out how much the baby likes their older sibling
Saying ‘Look how much they love you’ and ‘They won’t stop watching how good you are on your bike’ will make your older child feel like they’re really involved in making their younger sibling happy. Warm, authoritative and responsive parenting helps children to manage stress. By boosting their confidence they will respond better to the change in their lives.
9. Keep toddler routines as much as possible
Toddlers are creatures of habit. So if you can sling some clothes on and drag yourself to their usual music group, even in the early weeks, it will make a massive difference to how they feel. After all, this is a huge upheaval in their lives.
Try with the smaller stuff too, like reading them a bedtime story or eating your usual breakfast. Participation in routines like reading or storytelling are associated with higher social and emotional school readiness among preschool-age children. Going to playgroup, visiting friends and telling a bedtime story might be difficult to organise in the first few weeks. But sticking to established routines will help reassure your toddler.
10. Remember that it won’t last for ever
When young children are feeling jealous of baby siblings, it can feel like a phase that will never end. But – like them all – it will. And before you know it, they’ll be best of mates (and ganging up on you). Remember too that both your baby and toddler are gaining socially and emotionally by having a sibling.
Before your little one arrives it can be beneficial to think about what sort of role you’d like your parents or in-laws to play. You might want to talk it through with your partner so you’re both on the same page and you could discuss different scenarios and how they might make you feel – as well as how to handle them.
You could try to think of compromises to keep you and your parents or in-laws happy. For example, if having relatives to stay, or vice versa, is too stressful, you could offer to meet halfway.
Alternatively, if they’re dropping hints about not seeing your little one enough, it may be worth coming to a regular arrangement so you both know in advance the dates for get-togethers.
Some people find their parents or in-laws don’t seem very keen to be involved in their grandchildren’s lives, which can be upsetting.
You might find it helpful to ask parents or in-laws if they could help with specific things as they may just not be that natural with grandchildren, not know what to do, or feel worried about being seen as interfering. There may have been a misunderstanding or miscommunication.
If there is still a distance, some parents say they find they have to just accept the reality, try to move forward and perhaps focus on other positive relationships in their own and their children’s lives.
Families come in all shapes and sizes – and often they’re not a conventional structure. For example, you may have step-parents to try to include. Some people say it’s a struggle to fit everybody in and avoid upsetting anyone.
Jealousies between sets of grandparents are also relatively common – particularly if one set lives closer than the others or get more time with the children.
If this is the case, you might want to try to explain that your children have several sets of grandparents and you value time with all of them, but this might mean you can’t spend as much time with individuals as you’d like. Think about whether you can use FaceTime or Skype to help everyone feel more included.
Also if there appears to be some grandparent jealousy, try to take comfort from the fact it shows your child is loved by lots of different people.
And, as hard as it may be to deal with, remember your children will gain very different, but equally important, things from each set of grandparents.
It can help to acknowledge that they’re still adjusting to a new role as a grandparent – and they might not have found the right balance between being supportive or interfering.
One of the trickiest things can be persuading your parents or in-laws that you’d like to do things differently with your children and dealing with unsolicited advice.
The important thing is to decide what is right for you. After all, it is your pregnancy and your baby. Trust in your own parenting instincts and skills.
Many people experience pregnancy and parenthood when they’ve lost their parents, or are no longer in contact. This can be incredibly difficult if old wounds or feelings are re-opened at a time when you might already be feeling anxious or vulnerable.
Some say they go through the grieving process all over again.
Remember you are not alone in grappling with your emotions. You can discuss them with your partner, friends or through professional counselling.
Some bereaved people say that becoming a parent brings back happy memories that were previously forgotten.