Baby on the Way! 25 Tips to Prepare Children for a New Sibling
[By L.R.Knost, author of Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages, Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood, and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline available on Amazon and through other major retailers.]
Pregnancy is a time of introspection, excitement, and, often, anxiety for most new mamas. When those new mamas also have other small children at home, that anxiety can become overwhelming as they worry about how they’ll cope with more than one child and how the current little loves of their life will cope with a new sibling. While these are very valid concerns, there are steps you can take to prepare your child for a new sibling and help them to adjust when the new baby arrives that will also help you to cope with life as a mama of more than one little blessing.
Once you discover you’re expecting, you’ve got months and months to prepare your child for the arrival of a new sibling, so here are 25 tips for during your pregnancy and after the new baby arrives to make the new baby transition a smoother and sweeter journey for everyone:
- Help your older child make their own ‘sister/brother on the way’ announcements so they feel like they are part of the transition from the beginning.
- Bring them along to sonograms, doctor’s appointments, shopping for baby things, etc.
- Reassure them that parents’ love multiplies instead of divides and that they will always be loved and important. Point out other families with more than one child so they can see that truth for themselves. If they’re old enough to understand, try a simple illustration such as letting them put different colors of water beads, one for each family member including the baby-on-the-war, into a glass of water. Tell them the water is like love, and it grows the beads into a rainbow of beautiful colors just like love grows our hearts bigger and bigger so there’s plenty of love for everyone.
- Present the new baby-on-the-way as ‘theirs,’ a special gift sent just for them so they will have a best friend for life. Talk about their friends who have siblings and how they always have someone to play with and someone to help them when they need it.
- Find children’s books about welcoming a new sibling, taking care of a new baby, when mommy breastfeeds, etc. to read to them before the birth. Here is a great list to get you started.
- Let them help decorate the nursery, put together the stroller, pack up the hospital bag (or prepare for your homebirth), buckle in the car seat, etc.
- Ask the person giving your baby shower to let your child ‘co-host’ and help with the party planning, set-up, serving snacks, and playing games.
- Help them make a special ‘welcome’ gift for the new baby and wrap it in paper they’ve decorated with stamps or finger paint.
- Buy them a special ‘welcome’ gift that you give them when they visit their new sibling for the first time. One idea is to buy them a child-sized baby carrier along with a doll, some diapers, wipes, mini baby blankets, etc. so they can take care of their baby while you take care of yours.
- Help them make their own family scrapbook with places to put the new baby’s pictures and pictures of them with their new little sibling when the new baby comes.
- Tell them stories about when they were born and show them pictures of their homecoming and first weeks of life.
- Let them help you work on updating their baby book.
- Take them to pick out a baby book for the new baby.
- Begin an open-ended conversation about how they’re feeling about having a new baby in the family to allow them to express their natural worries about how their role in the family might change, if they will still be able to play with their own toys, if the baby will cry a lot, etc. Continue this conversation throughout your pregnancy and after the new baby arrives to keep the communication lines open and your connection intact.
- Take them to visit the hospital and stop at the gift shop to buy a baby gift and a little treat for them to build excitement.
- Have lunch at the hospital cafeteria two or three times leading up to your birth to help them get used to the environment.
- Work on building other attached relationships with significant adults in your child’s life (spouse, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc.) so that your little one is used to having their needs attended to by someone other than mama at times and so they can play and get one-on-one time with another caregiver while mama is busy with the new baby.
- On their first visit with their new sibling, let them sit in bed with you and hold their new little sibling. Have a ‘big sister/brother’ t-shirt for them to wear and take lots of pictures of both of them together and with other family members. Ask whoever you have caring for your older child to stop on the way home to print out a few of the pictures and then help them put the pictures in the scrapbook they created with you at home.
- When the new baby arrives continue to present the baby as ‘theirs’ to love and enjoy and care for. Include them in helping with diaper changes, snuggling on your other side with storybooks for you to read while nursing/feeding the new baby, singing the baby to sleep, etc. Make sure you invite them to participate instead of insisting because they may need some time to adjust to the newness of everything before they’re ready.
- Keep your expectations in line with your child’s developmental stage and make accommodations whenever possible. For instance, expecting a toddler to willingly give up their crib to a new baby is probably unrealistic. Moving your toddler to a new bed early in your pregnancy and then involving them in getting the crib ready for the new baby later on, after they’ve adjusted to their new bed, might be more successful.
- If your older child is a toddler or preschooler, you can expect some regression into babyish behavior as they work to adjust to their new role and find their place in the new family dynamic. Don’t respond with punishment, shaming, or pressure to ‘be a big boy or girl.’ Instead allow them the space and time they need to explore how it feels to be a baby again while at the same time drawing their attention to the benefits of being the older sibling (i.e. “Look how you can walk on your strong legs wherever you want to go! Your baby sister can’t walk yet, can she?” or “Wow, you can pick out your own shoes and even put them on yourself! Your baby brother can’t do that yet, can he?” or “Look at all the yummy foods you get to eat. It’s nice being bigger so you don’t have to just have milk, isn’t it?”)
- Be specific about how your child should treat the new baby. Instead of “Be nice!” try “Can you use a kind voice with your brother?” and instead of “Don’t be so rough!” try “Can you give your sister a gentle hug?”
- Make sure your child’s boundaries are clear and consistent. If you let them hop around the baby’s bouncer to make the new baby laugh one day, you can be sure they’ll try bouncing around the baby’s bouncer again and again and again. If you think that’s dangerous, set a clear boundary, explain the reason for the boundary, and give them an alternative (i.e. “Hopping next to the baby is dangerous. You might fall on the baby and hurt him! That would make you sad, and the baby would be sad, too. If you need to hop, you can hop like a bunny over here next to me.”)
- Keeping a consistent, familiar routine for your older child will help them to feel less out-of-control as they adjust to all of the other changes going on in their life. Make sure you’re flexible and in-tune with your child’s changing needs, though. They will most likely communicate their natural anxiety at this big transition in the family with some acting out behaviors, clinginess, whining, and/or resistance to bedtime and other normal routines. For instance, they may have been fine with one story and a hug at bedtime before the new baby arrived, but after their new sibling comes home they may need extra cuddles, time, and the reassurance of your love and ongoing commitment to their wellbeing before they’re able to go to sleep.
- Talk, talk, talk to your little ones throughout each and every day. Your hands may be busy more often than not, but you can still maintain that all-important connection through communication!
Keep in mind that nothing will completely eliminate the possibility of some jealousy, regression, or acting out when a new baby arrives because it’s a huge transition and it will take time for everyone in the family to adjustment, but these suggestions will go a long way toward setting the stage for the smoothest transition possible.
Award-winnning author, L.R.Knost, is the founder and director of the children's rights advocacy and family consulting group, Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, and Editor-in-Chief of Holistic Parenting Magazine. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood ; Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages ; The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline ; and Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting the first four books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, and children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series.