Congrats Mama – your growing family is expecting a baby! As you prepare for your new arrival, one of the most important jobs you’ll have is to get your older child ready for the big role of becoming a sibling.
A new baby is an adjustment for any child, and it is natural for them to feel that the new baby is taking over their role in the family, which can lead to sibling rivalry. This can be shown in different ways – some children experience feelings of jealousy towards their new brother or sister, while others throw tantrums or revert to “babyish” behavior to get your attention.
Keep in mind that no matter how your child reacts to the news – with joy, anger, confusion or seemingly no response at all – it’s normal. Understanding their feelings and learning how they react to them is a big part of their emotional development.
Knowing what to expect based on our child’s age will make it easier to handle the changes in your family. To help, we’ve gathered a list of age-specific tips from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Toddlers: Ages 1 to 2 Years
Young children won’t understand much about what it means to have a new brother or sister. However, let 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 and they will feel excited too!
It’s hard to satisfy the needs of multiple children all the time – especially single-handedly. If you feel overwhelmed, ask your partner, relatives and friends for support and another set of hands.
- 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 very much so still loved. Some ideas include giving them a special gift, spending some time alone with dad, grandma or another special adult, or taking them someplace special.
Preschoolers: Ages 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. They may also be sensitive to change and may feel threatened by the idea of a new family member. Here are some suggestions that may help ease your preschooler into being a big brother or big sister.
- Wait a while before telling your preschooler about the baby. Explain it to your child when you start buying nursery furniture or baby clothes or if he starts asking about mommy’s growing “tummy.” Picture books for preschoolers can be very helpful. So can sibling classes – ask your hospital if it offers them. It’s best to tell your child before they hear about the new baby from someone else.
- Be honest. Explain that the baby will be cute and cuddly, but will also cry and take a lot of your time and attention. Make sure that your older child knows that it may be a while before he can play with the new baby. Reassure your child that you will love them just as much after the baby is born as you do now.
- Involve your preschooler in planning for the baby. This will make them less jealous. Let them shop with you for baby items and look at their own baby pictures together. If you are going to use some old baby things, let your older child play with them a bit before you give them to the new baby. Buy your child (boy or girl) a doll so they can practice taking care of the baby.
- Time major changes in your child’s routine. If you can, finish toilet training or switching from a crib 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 changes caused by the new baby.
- Expect your child to regress a little. For example, your toilet-trained child might suddenly start having “accidents,” or they 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, give them the attention they need, then praise them when they act grown-up.
- Prepare your child for when you are in the hospital. They may be confused when you leave for the hospital. Explain that you will be back with the new baby in a few days.
- Set aside special time for your older child. Read, play games, listen to music, or simply talk together. Show them that you want to do things with them. Make them feel a part of things by cuddling next to you when you feed the baby.
- 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 feel special and not left out of all the excitement.
- Have your older child spend alone time with dad. A new baby presents a great opportunity for fathers to spend extra time with older children.
School-Aged Children: Ages 5 and above
Children older than 5 years are usually not as threatened by a new baby as younger children are. However, they may still resent the attention the new baby gets. You can do these things to prepare your school-aged child for a new baby.
- Tell your child what is happening in language they can understand. Explain what having a new baby means and what changes may affect them – both the good and the not so good.
- Have your older child help get things ready for the new baby by fixing up the baby’s room, picking out clothes or buying diapers.
- If possible, have your older child come to the hospital soon after the baby is born so they feel part of the growing 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, but they must ask you first. Praise your older child when they are gentle and loving towards the new baby.
- Do not overlook your older child’s needs and activities. 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 and that no one will ever change that.