Bringing home a new baby can create mixed emotions in your older child or children. Although they may be excited about a new baby brother or sister, they may also feel jealous and left out. Fortunately, with a little planning, you can help make the transition a smooth and positive one for your toddler or preschooler. Here are some tips on how to prepare siblings for a new baby:
Share the News with Siblings About the New Baby
Time passes much slower for a small child than it does for an adult—nine months could be half a lifetime! For this reason, it’s best to wait until you’re well into your pregnancy before telling the sibling(s) about the new baby. The idea that there’s a baby inside you will make more sense if your child can see that your tummy has grown and maybe even feel movement.
Read Picture Books to Siblings About the New Baby
Help your child(ren) learn about having a new baby arrive by reading picture books about how babies grow and about becoming an older brother or sister. Some helpful books for toddlers and young children about getting a new baby sibling are:
- Happy Birth Day! by Robie Harris
- Julius, the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes
- Arthur and the Baby by Marc Brown
- I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole
- I’m a Big Sister by Joanna Cole
- Waiting for Baby by Rachel Fuller
- When Mommy Has Our Baby by Rachel Armstrong Cedar
Another helpful way to prepare older siblings for the new baby is to bring out their baby pictures and talk about what it was like when they were a baby.
Involve the Siblings in Preparing for the New Baby
While you’re decorating the nursery and shopping for the new baby’s clothes, involve your other children in the activities. Let them pick out a new toy for their new baby brother or sister. You might also encourage older siblings to think of a name for the new baby. Some parents even let older siblings choose the name for their new baby sister or brother!
Introduce Siblings to the New Baby at the Hospital
If possible, have the new big sibling(s) visit you and your new baby at the hospital. Choose a time when there are no other visitors (except Dad, of course). Try to have the baby in the hospital bassinet when your child first comes in. Then focus all your attention on your child. Make sure they knows you missed them and that you are so glad to see them! Even if you don’t actually say it, you want your child to feel reassured that the new baby won’t make you love her less. Introduce the new baby to your child as “your baby sister” or “your baby brother.” Try not to talk about how cute, wonderful, and amazing the new baby is. Instead, talk about what an amazing big sister or brother your child will be.
Some parents like to have the new siblings exchange gifts. You may want to have your child bring a gift for the baby and have a gift “from the baby” to your child ready. Another fun idea is to have a nurse take a picture of your whole family together. Keep the visit short, especially if the older sibling(s) is young. If you have an extended hospital stay, frequent, short visits are better than fewer long ones.
Siblings and the New Baby at Home
Just like at the hospital, you have two main goals with the silblings and new baby at home:
- To make sure your older child(ren) knows that they’re still loved and cared for.
- To establish their new role as “big brother” or “big sister.”
Although you want your child(ren) to know that the new baby doesn’t change your love for them, the fact is that things will change. The older sibling(s) will no longer be the only child(ren) in the house. Some children adjust fairly quickly, while others may act out and regress. Your potty-trained child may suddenly start having accidents. They might start throwing bedtime tantrums and start crying more. They may also express negative emotions toward the new baby. As much as possible, ignore the negative behaviors and reinforce the positive ones.
In addition, try to carve out some time each day to spend with the older sibling(s) without the new baby. Read a story together, do a craft project, or play a game. Whatever you do, make sure your attention is focused just on your older child.
If you will be having people come to visit the new baby during the first few weeks, remind them ahead of time to be sure to give some attention to your older child(ren), too. “How do you like being a big brother?” will get old fast. Suggest to your family and friends that they ask about other parts of your child’s life such as school, friends, a favorite toy, etc.
Figure out ways for the older sibling(s) to fill the “big sister” or “big brother” role. Find baby-related jobs for the older sibling(s) to do, such as:
- fetch items like diapers, bottles, and toys
- put the new baby’s socks and hat on
- sing to the new baby
- bring mom a cup of water while nursing
- help wash the new baby in the bath
If your child is present when a visitor comes to see the baby for the first time, introduce the baby as your child’s little brother or sister, as in “And here is David’s little sister, Lucy!” Comment frequently on what a good big brother or sister your child is, both to your child directly and to others within your child’s hearing.
Becoming a big sister or big brother is a huge transition. It may take some time for your child to get used to not being an “only” anymore. Try to be patient and remember that it won’t be long before your older child barely remembers a time when her younger brother or sister was not a part of her life.