How to prepare your child for a new sibling
Let me preface this by saying that you can do everything listed in this article and your older child will still have feelings of jealousy. This is a normal, expected reaction to bringing a new baby into the house.
Your child is not going to suffer irreparable damage from this change. In fact, after a bit, they won’t even remember a time (If they are young enough when a new sibling is added) when it was just him/her.
Do most people have siblings?
Yep. An estimated 80% of Americans have at least one sibling. Many have multiple siblings. In countries where birth control is difficult to access, siblings abound! So, there is no need for feelings of guilt for adding another child to the family. Think of it as more love being added to the home, rather than love and attention being taken away from your first child.
So, onto the methods of getting your sweet child ready for a little brother or sister.
How can I encourage my toddler to bond with the new baby before birth?
1- Encouraging bonding before birth
There is so much you can do in this department. Let your toddler feel the baby kick, involve big brother/sister in picking out a name, and encourage them to talk to your unborn, sing to them, and even snuggle and kiss your belly!
2- Talk about your pregnancy with your child
Let them know some of the changes you are going through. Let them experience the pregnancy with you. Bring out pictures of when you were pregnant with them and reminisce aloud about how excited you were for their birth!
Be honest, but age-appropriate, with your toddler about how birth happens.
We tend to not want to talk about our “private parts” with our kids. But it has actually been shown a good thing to be literal with our kids about. And it can take the mystery out of birth for them. There is an awesome Hape puzzle (sponsored link) that is super helpful in explaining what’s happening inside your body and with the growing baby.
You definitely don’t want to leave out the fact that you will be staying in the hospital for a few days. Make sure to let them know who will be caring for them during that time.
3- Prepare for a gift exchange at the hospital
This was my favorite thing! My daughter picked out a stuffed giraffe for her little brother and her brother (Well, mom and dad) picked out a necklace for his big sister! We did the gift exchange at the hospital and our daughter was overjoyed. It got their relationship off to a great start!
How can I prepare my toddler help with the new baby?
4- Have big sibling help care for baby
There is so much care that goes into a new baby it’s easy to let it consume you, thereby leaving your firstborn on the sidelines, waiting for crumbs of your attention.
You can turn this into a win-win, though! Little kids love to have big jobs. Show your older child where the diapers, wipes, burp cloths, and onsies are kept. Make sure these things are accessible to them. Not only will this make them feel like an important part of caring for the new baby, but it will help you out, as well!
5- Read books about bringing home a new baby
One book that helped my daughter understand the upcoming change was “Froggy’s Baby Sister” (sponsored link). This book addresses sibling gender disappointment, adjusting to a new baby, and the expectation that babies come out of the womb instant playmates. There is also an episode of Daniel Tiger wherein Daniel’s mother brings home his new sister, which I recommend.
6- Give them a baby doll to care for
Show them how to be gentle with a baby, how to wash and dress a baby, and how to swaddle. Though, they won’t be caring for their new sibling on their own, doing these things with a doll will help them develop empathy and an understanding of what you will be busy with. It’s a great idea for them to actually participate in caring for the new baby, as well. So, this will get them ready.
Should I take my child to prenatal appointments?
7- When possible, bring your child to your prenatal appointments
Often times, the doctor or midwife will let your child “help” them guide the Doppler to find the baby’s heartbeat. Also, seeing the new baby on a screen during an ultrasound can turn the baby from an “idea” to….well, a baby to your child.
This would only be recommended for low-risk, healthy pregnancies. Most specialists don’t allow minors at the prenatal appointment, anyhow.
8- Make a point of showing your child other babies when in public
Whether you are at the local mall or the library, babies are pretty much everywhere. Take advantage of this fact by striking up a conversation with the parents and showing your child all of the adorable wonderment that is a new baby. (Without touching or getting too close, of course.)
9- Show them pics of when they were babies
This will make them feel special during a time when most of the attention is focused on the new baby.
10- Let them pick out the homecoming outfit for the new baby
What an important job for a big brother/sister! Picking out their new sibling’s very first outfit is sure to make them feel like an important part of the new baby’s homecoming.
How can I explain breastfeeding to my child?
11- Plan on involving them in feeding the baby
If you are breastfeeding, tell your toddler about how they used to drink your milk and how special that time was for the both of you. If this will be your first time breastfeeding, explain that milk will come from your breasts to feed the new baby and there will be many things they can do to help out.
If you are bottle feeding, plan to have your toddler help with feedings. Let them watch you mix the formula and let them sit with you and the baby and help hold the bottle. Let them know what an important job they are doing, nourishing their new sibling!
Explain feedings to your child ahead of time, so they can know what to expect and get excited about being a part of feeding the new baby.
12- Explain how to be gentle with the new baby
Emphasize how we need to support their heads when we hold them. Let your child know some of the new rules ahead of time. For example, when they are playing near the baby, there should be no jumping, running, throwing things, playing too close to the baby with hard toys, ect. Let them know to keep small items away from the baby. Tell them how important of a job they have!
13- If there are any medical conditions, explain them
Sometimes babies are born with needs beyond the norm. Be honest, but age-appropriate with your explanation. You want them to understand, but not to have undue fear and anxiety.
14- Reassure your older child that things may change, but your love for them will remain the same.
This is going to mean many, many conversations and snuggle sessions throughout your pregnancy and after the baby is born!
15- Be honest with your child about how babies really are
Your child is likely going to expect some interaction with the new baby and will, of course, be disappointed when the baby literally can’t do anything. Remember, your child is expecting a playmate and they are going to be disappointed. Ease the blow by explaining about how babies can’t do much at first. BUT, let them know they have the important job of teaching the new baby all the cool stuff he/she knows, and that soon enough the baby will be running around, playing with him/her!
16- Last, but definitely not least, acclimate your child to independent play, if you haven’t already done so
Not only is solo play just plain great for your child’s development, but it’s going to be a bigger shock to the system than it needs to be if your child is used to constant interaction and entertainment.
There are many ways you can go about getting your young child to play on their own. Creating child-friendly spaces throughout the house is extremely helpful. Also, helping your child gain some independence through Practical Life activities is going to be beneficial to them and you. I’m a huge Janet Lansbury fan and I highly recommend her blog on helping your child play on their own.
Your family is in for an adventure you can never be fully prepared for! Congratulations and good luck!
If you found this article helpful, feel free to share it with other expectant and/or new mothers!