Preparing for your first baby is unlike anything else, but preparing for a second or later baby might bring its own challenges. How can you prepare your older kids for their new sibling? This blog post will offer advice and stories from our readers about helping your children through the transition of adding a new baby to the family.
Involve Them Before Baby ComesAs much as possible, involve your older children in preparing for the baby during pregnancy or your adoption process. Take them to your appointments and let them see any ultrasound photos. If you’re willing, you can involve a big sibling in picking the baby’s name. You can also let the bigger kids pick out things like baby’s coming home outfit, car seat color, diaper bag, etc. These are small things that are pretty inconsequential to you as a parent but might make a big difference in making your older children feel excited and involved with the new sibling.
It also helps to say things like “our baby” or “your baby” to make the point that your family is growing and the baby is as much theirs as anyone else’s. It’s not like mom went out to get a new baby because she didn’t like the old baby anymore. You can even create a special ritual or read a book to help you explain what’s happening in your family dynamic.
Brittany says: “We didn't say things like ‘Mommy is having a baby,’ or ‘Mommy and daddy have a new baby.’ We always said, ‘Do you want to feel your baby kick? Your brother will be tiny, will you be careful with your baby brother?’ Always your, your, your. We didn't want our kids to feel replaced or jealous. We wanted them to feel like they were gaining something too.”
Sarah says: “We focused on the idea that the older children were going to have a new baby. The baby was OUR baby. We bought big brother and sister shirts and encouraged talking to the baby in my tummy. The kids went to almost all my appointments. They heard her heartbeat and saw the ultrasounds. They helped pick her name and got to announce the news to family. They picked clothes and new baby toys they wanted the baby to have and got shirts to match her coming home outfit.”
Dianne says: “We have always done a candle ceremony. We have enough candles on the table for each person and then taper candles that my husband and I hold. My husband and I light our candles and we talk about how two people fall in love and get married. We use our candles to light a table candle. Then we talk about how love multiplies and we had a baby (light that child's candle) and each time the love multiplies the love grows and spreads. We light a candle for each child. Then we talk about how our love is growing again and light a candle for the baby. We talk about how they can see that love (the light) grows and gets brighter.”
Use Tools to Prepare ThemIn our age of information, there is a product for everything. Look for TV shows and books that help kids prepare for a new sibling, like Daniel Tiger or Doc McStuffins. Caring for their own doll “baby” can also help them prepare and occupy themselves when the real baby arrives. Some parents even suggest giving the older child(ren) a toy as a gift from the new baby, to thank them for sharing their family.
Rosselyn says: "I used a book, ‘A Pocket Full of Kisses.’ My son asked me to read it almost every day and I think that made him love his sister the way he did from the start.”
Michelle says: “For my daughter, we bought her a baby doll. It came home from the hospital with us and was hers to care for. She would rock her baby and pretend to nurse while I nursed. She changed her baby when I changed mine also. Before baby was born we read books, watched shows (Daniel Tiger has some great ones) and talked about baby a lot but not constantly.”
Pippa says: “We read this really cute book given to us by a friend called 'There's a House Inside my Mummy' that we read loads of times.”
Karry says: “I got the older siblings a gift that the new baby brought them, which I gave to them in the hospital when they first met their sibling. We typically did Build-A-Bears that I bought online and had hidden in the trunk. We never had a single problem with jealousy even after three kids.”
Spend One-on-One TimeIf your big kid is feeling left out, it’s more important than ever to remind them that you’re still their parent and love them. If you can get out of the house for a quick errand or lunch with your older child, take advantage of it. Even if you can’t stay long because you need to get home to the baby for a feeding, the older sibling will appreciate the individual attention. You can even give individual attention to your older children when introducing them to the new baby.
Katie says: “I birthed in a hospital. My older children were not there for the birth. When older sibling came for the first visit, I put baby in the bassinet and greeted the older children with open arms. I was able to have them sit with me, and shower them with hugs and kisses and tell them how much I missed them -- then introduce them to the new baby. It seemed to work really well for them.”
Claire says: “The first time baby meets sibling, have someone else other than mom holding baby so mom can be with big brother/sister. This gives them less cause for feeling ‘replaced.’”
Sarah says: “We make sure to have lots of family time and I set aside time for each of them individually as does my husband. That seems to have kept potential jealousy at bay.”
Expect Questions and ConfusionWhile you’re pregnant, and after the baby is born, curious children will ask you a lot of questions. They might even be confused about the baby. Be prepared for questions and have your answers ready.
Meg says: “I got sex ed questions out the wazoo.”
Laura says: “My older son wanted another baby sister so bad, it took almost a month to get him to use masculine pronouns after the baby was born. It also required involving him in diaper changes so he had visual evidence that the baby was in fact male.”
Hilary says: “My son was too little when I had his sister to be asking questions at the time, but when he sees pictures of me pregnant or sees my stomach when I’m getting dressed, he has made comments. He’ll ask why my belly is squishy and I tell him it’s because he and his sister grew inside me. I notice he never asks his dad this question.”
Acknowledge Their FeelingsRemember that adding a new baby to your life means that your older child is no longer the only child (or youngest child). There is a new normal for them to get used to, and if you’re sensitive to their changing feelings, the transition will go easier for everyone. Understand that your child will go through a grief process during their transition to being an older sibling.
It is important to validate your child’s feelings, especially the strong ones like anger and sadness. Even though you’re tired and it’s hard to focus on anything but your newborn, give your older children your full attention when they are experiencing their grief feelings, and let them feel what they need to feel.
Validating their feelings can be as simple as acknowledging them by saying “I understand, you are sad that the new baby is taking up mommy’s time” or “you’re angry daddy couldn’t hold you at the baby’s naptime.” When you listen and acknowledge like this, you let your children know that their feelings are okay and welcome, and you’ll be there to listen and support them.
Your child’s feelings might come out at surprising times that seem unrelated to the new baby. If they’re upset over losing a blankie or their favorite bear, or they got the “wrong” plate at lunch time or they didn’t want the ketchup you served them, use these moments to allow them to process their feelings (even if they seem out of place to you). Take as much time as you can to let your child cry if they need to cry.
Heather says: “It's important parents understand it's a grief process. And everyone grieves differently.”
Caitlyn says: “Communication was key. We'd ask what they were excited about, what they felt scared or nervous about, etc.”
Lura says: “I told each of the kids individually that we were expecting a new baby and gave them time to digest it, ask questions, and keep their own special secrets before we let the next in line in on it. It was really special and I think helped them get excited and open up with me a lot as well.”
Don’t Force ItIt’s tempting to emphasize how exciting the new baby is, and how important is to be a good big brother or sister. While positive reinforcement has a time and a place, don’t force the big sibling role onto a child that needs some space. Reprimands like “Don’t shout, be a good big sister” take away the child’s valid feelings and replace them with guilt over not being “good” in your eyes. This can cause a lot of hurt feelings for your little one down the road. Remember to acknowledge their feelings and help them process their emotions.
Parenting expert Janet Lansbury suggests that parents establish a boundary and ask about the child’s feelings to open up a dialog. For example: “I can’t let you jump on the bed next to the baby... are you feeling upset that the baby is here? Big sisters can feel like that sometimes. I am going to help you down from the bed, and I’d love for you to sit on my lap or jump on the floor next to me.” (Read her blog post on adjusting to a new baby for more advice and examples).
Advice for Blended FamiliesWhat if it’s not a new baby coming, but new siblings in the form of stepchildren? A lot of the same advice applies, since kids will experience similar worries about being replaced or having reduced time with a parent. Use the same advice outlined in the rest of this post to help your children adjust and react to the addition of new siblings.
Lydia says: “When I got together with my partner, I explained to my three kids that he had two kids of his own and that even though we hadn't made them all together that they would still get to love them and now they would just have more siblings and how exciting it would be to have a big brother and sister instead of another little sibling.”
Add Your Own Tips
Have you experienced the new sibling transition? Tell us what helped your family prepare and process the addition of a new baby.