Preparing your child or children for a new sibling can be a challenging task.
How should we tell older children that they are going to have a baby sister or brother? What if they get jealous? How will they get along?
How a child reacts to the news about a sibling will depend on their age and interest level.
Children of different ages react differently to the arrival of a new baby. Toddlers, preschoolers and school-age children all have varying levels of understanding, emotional maturity and ways of coping with change.
The task goes beyond informing them that they’re going to be a big brother or sister. It involves helping them understand and adjust to their new role in the family, while making sure they feel loved during this transition.
“Getting your child ready for the new baby is not a one-time conversation. It’s an ongoing one,” says Sabiha Hussain, MD, a pediatrician at Scripps Coastal Medical Center Jefferson in Oceanside. “Every child is different, so tailor your approach based on your child’s needs and personality.”
Here are ways to prepare your child to welcome their new sibling:
Think about your due date as well as the age of your child. Consider telling your little one about the new baby as soon as you start showing. You may have to do it sooner if you’re having physical symptoms that need explaining.
“Use age-appropriate language and answer any question your child might have,” Dr. Hussain says.
A toddler may not understand much about what it means to have a new brother or sister. Keep your talk about the baby light and positive and don’t feel you have to explain everything.
If a toddler asks where babies come from, they expect a literal answer. Saying the baby is inside “my belly” should be enough explanation. Picture books or cartoons about babies can help them understand words like “brother,” “sister” and “baby.”
A preschooler is different. They may need time to adjust to the idea of a new baby and may even feel threatened or jealous.
“Give them time to ask all the questions they need answers for and speak in a language they can understand,” Dr. Hussain says.
“Keep it positive. They’re going to have a little brother and sister. They’ll continue to be loved just the same after the baby is born.”
Be ready to explain why babies need a lot of care, why they cry or sleep so much.
“Show them pictures of when they were babies and share what they were like so there won’t be any surprises when the new baby arrives,” Dr. Hussain adds.
School-aged children usually don’t feel as threatened by the arrival of a new baby as younger children are. But they may resent all the attention the new family member gets.
“Reassure them that you will continue to spend time with them doing some of their favorite activities,” Dr. Hussain says. “Remind them that their role as the older sibling is special and important and that they are needed.”
Including your older kids in the preparations for the new baby can make them feel involved and important. This might include helping to set up the nursery, choosing baby clothes, or picking out toys. For older children, you might even discuss baby names together.
Try to avoid any substantial changes as the birth approaches. If your child is potty training or moving from a crib to a bed, try to make these changes before the baby arrives. Or wait until after the baby has been home for a while.
When introducing your child to their new sibling, make sure to do it in a calm and relaxed setting.
Let them see, touch and hold the baby (with help) and become familiar with the concept that this is their baby brother or sister. This can help them develop a sense of affection and responsibility.
Make sure to baby proof the house and make it a safe place for your newborn.
Depending on their age, children can learn to help with the baby.
Older siblings might be able to hold the baby (with supervision) or assist in simple tasks like getting diapers. School-age children could learn to feed the baby, under your guidance, which would help them feel more engaged and responsible.
The arrival of a baby brother or sister is a big change and maintaining familiar routines can offer comfort and reassurance.
Make sure your older child feels that their needs and milestones are still important, even with the baby’s arrival.
“It’s important to preserve your routines as much as possible. Make sure to spend time alone with your older child and remind them how special they are,” Dr. Hussain says.
Encourage your older child to be patient. A new baby requires attention, and it's normal for older siblings to feel left out or jealous. Talk about these feelings and let them know it’s okay to feel this way. This will usually prevent them from acting out in other ways.
“Provide your child the freedom to express resentment and let them know it may take a little time to get used to all the big changes at home,” Dr. Hussain says.