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Preparing kids for a new baby

If you already have a little one (or little ones) at home, a major step in your family’s growth will be telling them that they’ll soon have a baby sibling. Most children will deal with news of a new addition to the household with a range of emotion – it’s not uncommon for excitement and happiness to be mixed in with sadness, confusion, or jealousy. But you can help prepare your soon-to-be big sibling for the new addition in a wealth of ways, and help make the arrival of a new baby not feel so abrupt.

Explain that a new baby is on the way

As you explain that Baby will soon be joining the family, it’s important to explain things to your little one in a way that they can understand based on their age:

  • Little ones younger than two: These little ones might not entirely understand the concept of a new baby, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to let them know about the changes that are about to take place in your family. As your belly is expanding, you can let them know that it’s because a baby is growing in there. You might also have them talk to the baby or feel the baby kick. Another great option is to show them pictures of when they were a baby and talk about how they used to be even smaller. You can even read books about babies, families, and kids who are becoming a big brothers or sisters and talk about the ways in which what’s going on in the story is like what’s going on in your own family. 
  • Children ages two to four: You can do a lot of the same things for kiddos of this age that you might for younger children, but expect them to understand what you’re saying a little better, even if some of the specifics are off – they might think you swallowed something funny as they watch your belly expand or imagine that the baby will just pop out to arrive. Little ones at this age might also be a little more upset about the prospect of sharing your attention with the new baby or how this will affect their role in the family. As you read books about babies, families, and siblings, and as you look at pictures of your little one in babyhood, you may be able to go into more detail about what it was like when they were born and what it will be like for them to be a big sibling.
  • School-age children: If you have a school age child who is soon going to be a big sibling, they’ll definitely pick up on more and understand sooner that a new baby is on the way. You might also have to field more questions about just how the baby got into your belly and just how the baby will get out. Kids at this age might also display feelings of jealousy toward the new baby, but you can speak more clearly about all the great parts of being an older sibling, all the ways in which they’ll be able to help, and all the perks that come with being an older kid. With older children, one thing to remember is that, even if they’re more mature than younger children might be at this time, they’re still pretty little, and this is going to be a big change. They’ll need your patience as they adjust to the idea a little.

Practice and prepare for Baby’s arrival

There’s no time like the present for your soon-to-be big sibling help prepare for Baby’s arrival. Again, this might mean different things for different ages:

  • Little ones younger than two: Your very little one could practice holding, caring for, and playing with a realistic looking doll – or even their favorite stuffed animals – as you talk about all the ways in which you’ll care for the new baby once they arrive, and how, as a big sibling, they’ll be able to hug, kiss, and be gentle with the baby. As new baby items make their way into your home or simply out of storage, you can talk about who they’ll be used for, though your little one might just think they items are theirs and want to play with the items themself. They may even be able to help with some simple setup for the new baby – or just pretend to be “helping,” which may very well undo some of your own setup but will still feel like important work – such as stacking diapers or putting clothes in drawers. 
  • Children ages two to four: Older children can do the same things younger ones can, though they may both better understand some of the ways in which they can help with the baby – and might really take to practicing and playing with their dolls – and also be jealous of the items and prep. Starting at this age you can also explain that the baby won’t quite be a full playmate when they arrive, and will likely do a lot of sleeping, eating, and crying. You can also ask your little one to assist with simple setup or to help in other fun ways, like by drawing a picture for the new baby or making something to decorate the baby’s room.
  • School-age children: Kids of this age can help out even more. They might also want to make something special for the new baby, but they may even be able to help paint, setup a playpen, arrange tiny clothes and accessories in a dresser, or – for particularly brave parents – choose a baby name! You can also tell your big kid about all the other ways in which they’ll be able to help once Baby arrives. This may help them feel really good and like they’re already able to play an important new role in the family as a big sibling. Just make sure this doesn’t go overboard so they don’t feel like they constantly have to fulfill the role of helper to get praise or attention. 

Give, give, give!

There’s a lot you’ll want to shower your little one with, both before and after they become a big sibling. For kids of any age, the transition can be a little smoother if you give them:

  • Lots of love and attention: This is a time when it’s very important to shower your soon-to-be big sibling with a lot of love and affection. When Baby arrives, especially if you’ll be breastfeeding, they’ll have to spend a bit more time with your partner or other loved ones, so it can be great for them to get used to that now. Maybe that means dad puts your big kid to bed or grandma and grandpa take them out for a few afternoon adventures in the lead up to your due date. And everyone – you, a partner, other family members – will also want to make special time for your big kid that’s for just them, both before and after baby. Before, you might find that this is just business as usual. But once the baby arrives, maybe it’s a little bit of time first thing in the morning or during Baby’s naptime. This undivided attention and special bonding with your big kid can go a long way in helping them to know that you still love them just as much and nothing will change that.
  • Maybe a little gift: Even a little token can be a big deal. Maybe it’s a book all about being a big sibling, a t-shirt that announces their new and very important role, or just some other tiny token that makes them feel special. You can give these gifts before the arrival or right in time for the big show. And you might even encourage loved ones who might be thinking of getting gifts for Baby to give a little something to your big kid too. Same goes for attention. Before the baby arrives, make sure loved ones talk with your little one about things other than the baby’s arrival, and once Baby is here, make sure they give your bigger little one plenty of attention too.
  • Room to express their feelings: Throughout pregnancy and after birth, you’ll want to allow the big sibling plenty of room to express all they might be feeling, including jealousy and anger. This might manifest as tantrums, tears, or even a bit of regression. And it’s helpful to keep in mind that if there are too many changes happening at once – say, not only becoming a big sibling, but also switching rooms, moving to a big kid bed, or potty training – it can be really intense and likely won’t go over well. So if some of these changes do need to happen, it’s helpful to either tackle those changes a few months before Baby arrives or shortly after. And keep in mind that there may be some regression – when it comes to sleeping, eating, bathroom habits, crying, and behavior – simply because of the major change that is Baby’s arrival. So be patient with any regression, comfort and soothe your big kid as needed, ignore tantrums (just give your kiddo a space to do their screaming/crying/kicking thing), and reward good behavior. In time, they’ll bounce back and learn to love your family’s new bundle of joy.   

Welcoming a new baby to the family is a big change for all of you, but it’s children you already have who might feel the most surprised and off-balance about it. With a little patience, though, there’s a good chance they’ll be excited to be the best big sibling they can be before you know it.

  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “New sibling: Preparing your older child.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, March 24 2015. Retrieved September 6 2017.
  • “Preparing Your Family for a New Baby.” American Academy of Pediatrics, May 8 2014. Retrieved September 6 2017.
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