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I'm having a second child. What's the best way to tell my first?

Chrissie Russell has a baby on the way and a curious three-year-old. So she asked for some expert advice.

HAVING A SECOND child brings with it its own set of anxieties, but one of the biggest dilemmas has to be the old classic: How do you break it to your first born that there’s about to be a new kid in town?

With a baby due next year and a three-year-old to prepare, Chrissie Russell asks: What’s the best way to tell a toddler you’re pregnant?

There’s actually no ‘right’ time or ‘right’ way

“You know your child best,” says psychologist Allison Keating from the BWell Clinic. “Every child is different and there’s no one right way. You’re best placed to know what they’ll understand and when they’re ready to hear.”

But saying that, you mightn’t want to leave it too late – when the bump is getting bigger – and risk someone else bringing it up. Nor do you want to strike too early.

“Toddlers have no concept of time,” warns Jen Hogan, mum-of-seven and author of The Real Mum’s Guide to (Surviving) Parenthood. “If you tell them too early that there’s a baby on the way they’ll have you driven to distraction with ‘how much longer’ questions.”

Get them involved

Try picking out playthings for ‘our baby’ and reading stories about impending arrivals – like My New Baby by Rachel Fuller and There’s A House Inside My Mummy by Giles Andreae and Vanessa Cabban.

You can also enlist them to help share the news. “Suggest your toddler tells their grandparents, aunts or uncles the wonderful news,” suggests Jen. “Toddlers generally love having special news to share.”

Don’t feel pressurised to find out if it’s a little brother or sister

“Kids can get stuck on what gender they want,” says Allison. “Emphasise the surprise element. That it’s a bit like a Kinder Surprise, you have to wait until the end to find out what prize is inside!”

Be prepared for awkward questions and unconventional responses

Usually when you tell someone you’re pregnant there are a set of standard responses. ‘Congratulations!’ ‘When are you due?’ ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’ Children react differently.

When I told my three-year-old ‘Mummy has a baby in her tummy’, he immediately lifted my top and declared ‘no there isn’t’. Later he expressed a desire to ‘take it out’.

“Prepare for all sorts of questions about how baby ended up in your tummy,” says Jen. “Including assumptions that you swallowed him/her.”

And don’t ask questions if you might not like the answer

Jen warns: “Questions like ‘would you like a new baby brother or sister?’ come with the real danger that you could receive a similar response to the one I did from child number five: ‘No thank you, but I would like a new Spiderman toy.’ It’s hard to build on that!”

Don’t dismiss a negative reaction

As much as you might want to, don’t rush to tell you’re tot they shouldn’t feel upset or angry. “Allow them to have whatever reaction they have and let them talk it out,” advises Allison.

“Sometimes that’s hard, because when you’re so excited it can be hard to hear things like ‘I don’t want it’ or ‘send it back’, but you have to see it from the child’s perspective and they didn’t ask for a sibling.”

Instead, try saying ‘OK, why is that?’ and aim to connect at the kid’s level – seeing it through their eyes.

Shutterstock / Natalia Lebedinskaia Shutterstock / Natalia Lebedinskaia / Natalia Lebedinskaia

Try not to make any other major changes at the same time

If at all possible, it’s best to hold off on other areas of major transition like weaning, potty training or moving a child into their own bed.

“As much as you might want to have everything ready in time for the baby, the child might not be ready and already have enough to process,” says Allison.

Consider ‘love bombing’

At the root of any negative feelings your child has about a new baby, are concerns that they’re not going to have as much of your attention. And though the reality is that you will be busier and won’t have as much time to go around, you still have enough love.

This can be shown in what the psychologist Oliver James dubbed ‘love bombing’ or ‘resetting your child’s emotional thermostat’.

Essentially all it is is setting aside an amount to time to spend solely with the child where the child gets to decide what you do and feels important.

It’s not about quantity – it can be as little as 15 minutes – but it has to be about you and them. “It’s about getting your time and attention,” says Allison. “Going to the park and getting a hot chocolate is something they’ll remember more than a latent toy.”

But don’t dismiss toys

When the baby’s born, a little gift specifically from the baby (something really small that in a toddler’s head could conceivably have been bought by the baby) is a nice symbolic way to reassure the child that this arrival is a positive thing.

And remember: it doesn’t have to be a nightmare

“Everyone survives it,” laughs Allison. “I think sometimes we worry ourselves too much about these things. It’s a transition, the dynamics of the family will change but you will get over it.

And the sibling relationship is a powerful one, siblings teach you a lot. It’s the longest relationship you’ll have in your life and one of the most influential.

Read next: Why I’m stopping at two kids (even though my ovaries are crying out for more)>

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