With a newborn on the way, are you wondering how your first born will react? You might (or might not!) be well-prepared for the arrival of the new baby in the house, but your first born has no idea how their little world is about to change. There are lots of ways you can help in preparing your child for a new baby and their new life as an older sibling with simple strategies that help explain why babies require so much special attention and care.
Children of different ages will react differently to a new baby. Knowing how to address a new sibling with each age group will make it easier for you to help them to handle the changes in your family. Here are a few ideas to help you head off feelings of sibling jealousy and resentment and send the message that you’ll love your child just as much as always, and get them really excited about meeting the new baby.
Preparing Your Child for a New Sibling by Age
Children between age 1 and 2 will not understand much about what it means to have a new brother or sister. However, you can help smooth the way by letting your child hear you talk about the “new baby” and feel your excitement. They may not understand why you are excited, but your attitude will rub off on them so that they will feel excited too.
It’s important to give yourself a guilt break too. Keep in mind you may not be able to satisfy the needs of both children all the time – especially not by yourself. If you feel overwhelmed, look to your partner, family and friends for support and an extra set of arms or two.
You can also:
- Look at picture books about a new baby. At the very least, your child will become familiar with words like “sister,” “brother,” and “new baby.”
- When the new baby arrives, try to do something special for your older child. Reassure them that they are still loved.
- Maybe give them a special gift like a teddy or doll to look after, and cuddle and feed while you are looking after the baby.
- If your family is comfortable using the baby’s name before he or she is born, that’s an excellent way for younger kids to get used the idea.
- Once baby does arrive, let them spend some time with each parent, grandparents, or another special adult for some quality one-on-one time without the baby.
Age 2 to 4 Years
At this age, your child is still very attached to you and does not yet understand how to share you with others. Your child also may be very sensitive to change and may feel threatened by the idea of a new family member.
Here are some suggestions that may help ease your young child into being a big brother or big sister:
- Don’t tell them too early into the pregnancy. Months can seem a very long time at this age. Explain it to your child when you start buying nursery furniture or baby clothes or if he starts asking about mom’s growing “tummy”. Picture books for pre-schoolers can be very helpful. Try to tell your child before they hear about the new baby from someone else; this will also give them time to prepare and get excited (or, at least, accepting) of baby’s impending arrival.
- Prepare them to share. Explain that the baby will be cute and cuddly, but will also cry and take a lot of your time and attention. Try holding your toddler and ask how the rocking motion makes them feel, and then explain that cuddling makes newborns happy because it reminds them of being inside your tummy. Remind your child that there will still be plenty of hugs for them too, and you will love them just as much after the baby is born as you do now.
- Make sure that your older child knows that it may be a while before they can play with the new baby. Your child might expect a new baby sibling to be ready for action right away, so it’s a good idea to paint a realistic picture of what life with a newborn baby will be like. Explain that babies don’t do much more than eat, sleep, cry, poo and pee at first, and that they can’t be much of a playmate right away. If you have any video footage of your older child as a newborn, use it to illustrate this point.
- Together, plan some fun activities that they can play with the baby such as singing or dancing for their new sibling, letting the baby squeeze their finger, talking to the baby using different voices, or holding a soft toy for them to look at. Explain that there’s nothing newborns like more than a human face, especially when it belongs to the best big sibling in the world!
- Your first born will probably find a brand new sibling really strange-looking. To help manage expectations, pull out some photos of your toddler when he or she was a newborn and give the lowdown on some of the things that make infants different from toddlers. For example, belly buttons, crunched-up legs, floppy necks and soft spots (which is one reason to be extra gentle with their head).
- Involve them in planning for the baby. This will make them less jealous. Let them shop with you for baby items. Show them their own baby pictures. If you are going to use some of their old baby things, let them play with them a bit before you get them ready for the new baby. Buy your child a doll so they can take care of their own baby.
- Prepare your child for when you are in the hospital. They may be confused when you leave for the hospital, so explain who will look after them, what will happen, and that you will be back with the new baby in a few days.
- Think about other major changes to your child’s routine. If you can, finish toilet training or switching from a cot to a bed before the baby arrives. If that is not possible, put them off until after the baby is settled in at home. Otherwise, your child may feel overwhelmed by trying to learn new things on top of all the other changes caused by the new baby.
- Don’t worry if your child regresses a little. For example, your toilet-trained child might suddenly start having “accidents”, or he might want to take a bottle. This is normal and is your older child’s way of making sure they still have your love and attention. Instead of telling them to act their age, let them have the attention they need. As children grow, it’s important to show them how proud you are that they’re growing into ‘big boys’ or ‘big girls’. This can prepare them for seeing themselves as ‘big brothers’ or ‘big sisters’. Don’t expect them to act “older” just because they are an older sibling though.
- Set aside special time for your older child. Read, play games, listen to music, or simply talk together. Show him that you love him and want to do things together. Also, make him feel a part of things by having him cuddle next to you when you feed the baby. Plan quiet activities that you can do for when the baby is sleeping, but make them feel like they have your attention.
- Ask family and friends to spend a little time with your older child when they come to see the new baby. This will help them to feel special and not left out of all the excitement. They might also like to give them a small gift when they bring gifts for the baby.
- Have your older child spend time with partners or special adults. A new baby presents a great opportunity for them to get some extra attention.
No one ever said parenting was easy! With that in mind, here are 15 positive parenting techniques every parent should know.
School Children Aged 5 Years +
Children older than 5 years have the ability to understand what a new baby will mean and for you to discuss any concerns they may have. Whilst they are usually not quite as threatened by a new baby as younger children are, they may resent the attention the new baby gets.
To prepare your school-aged child for a new baby:
- Tell your child what is happening in age-appropriate language. Explain what having a new baby means and what changes may affect them – both the good and the not so good (e.g. night crying).
- Have your older child help get things ready for the new baby by helping to decorate the baby’s room, picking out clothes, or buying nappies.
- If possible, have your older child come to the hospital soon after the baby is born so they feel part of the changes to the family.
- When you bring the new baby home, make your older child feel that they have a role to play in caring for the baby. Tell them they can hold the baby, although they must ask you first. Praise them when they are gentle and loving toward the baby and when they help you out.
- Do not overlook your older child’s needs and activities. Try and maintain their activities such as extra-curricular lessons, groups, school, etc. so that their routine isn’t affected.
- Let them know how much you love them. Make an effort to spend some time alone with them each day; use that as a chance to remind them how special they are.
Whatever age your children are when you are preparing them for a sibling, along with reassuring your first-born, be careful that other well-meaning adults don’t accidentally undermine your efforts. Discourage comments or jokes implying that the new baby will somehow replace your first child, or that you’re going to be too busy to show him love and attention.