How Should I Prepare an Older Child for a New Baby?

by David Herz, MD

New babies can be stressful for the entire family: sleepless nights, occasional or persistent crying, the responsibility of caring for someone who is completely helpless. And while older children generally don’t have to take on this added responsibility, they sure feel the change.

Behavior will be your first clue that there is a problem. The older sibling may anger easily, throw tantrums or regress. It’s best not to wait for any of these to happen. Nip it in the bud early.

First, let your child (or children) know what’s going on during the pregnancy. Don’t keep it a secret. Get them involved early. Remind them that even though you will be spending a lot of time with the baby, they are still loved.

Explain how life is going to change with the new baby. Give it a positive spin. For example, ‘you’re getting a new bedroom’ (not the baby is getting your bedroom). Yes, the baby will be demanding, but it’s an opportunity for older siblings to help and contribute more to the family.

Maintain an open discussion throughout the pregnancy. Allow your child to express themselves freely, let them get it out. There’s no shortage of books and videos about babies and older siblings who had to deal with babies. Retell the story of their birth. Teach them how fragile a newborn is.

After the baby arrives, make sure you make time for the older sibling, no matter how tired you are. Don’t let them feel left out. The baby will be getting all kinds of gifts so make sure the older sibling receives something as well. Overall, maintain communication. Provide your child the freedom to express resentment. It will usually prevent them from acting out in other ways.

This Scripps Health and Wellness tip was provided by David Herz, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center in San Diego.