How to Prepare Your Child For a New Baby
Congratulations! Your family is expanding, and this is such an exciting time for everyone, but big brother or sister might be feeling a little nervous. It can be hard for your existing children to accept that the family dynamic is about to change. You try to get them to be excited about having a new playmate or taking on that extra responsibility, but sometimes kids need a little more coaxing to warm up to the idea of a new addition. Here are some tips to prepare your older kids for a new baby.
How to tell your child(ren) you are having a baby:
Tell them as soon as you start to show and in a developmentally appropriate way. The way you tell your 2- or 3-year-old will be different than the way you tell your 10-year-old. Share your excitement and describe it as a very happy time for the family to grow and add more love and happiness to the home. Throughout the pregnancy, continue to discuss the joys of being a big sister or big brother but also discuss the challenges. Prepare your child(ren) that the baby will also have a lot of needs and will need a big chunk of your help and attention for a while.
Here are some strategies to help with the transition of adding another child (or children) to the home:
- Let the older siblings help decorate the baby’s room. When they get to pick out little touches like a night light or blanket, it will make them feel included in the nesting process.
- Let them help pick out clothes and products. Like the point above, getting ready for the baby to come is half the fun! They’ll be so excited when they see their new sibling wearing the outfit they picked out or using the pacifier that they thought was the perfect choice.
- Let them be part of choosing the name. Sure, you might end up with some crazy suggestions like “Lord Tickle Face,” but eventually you might get some good options. Either way, they will feel like they are contributing to the final decision.
- Start giving them a few chores around the house before the baby gets there so they can get used to having some extra responsibilities. Even kids as young as three years old can be given chores, such as putting their toys away after they've played with them or throwing their trash in the garbage.
- Plan one-on-one time with your child. You could take your child to do a fun activity so he or she feels special or stay at home for an amazing cuddle session, where your child can rub your belly or read a book to the baby that’s inside your growing tummy. Then, when the baby arrives, the big brother or sister can continue to read books to the baby or get excited about having them tag along on your next adventure.
- Talk about how exciting it will be to be a big brother or sister. Explain to them what this means and all the things that your child will be able to teach their new sibling while growing up. Children feed off your energy. If you are excited, they will want to be excited too!
- Prepare them for what it will be like when you bring a new baby home. Explain that “Mommy and/or daddy will need to feed the baby and change the diapers very often. The baby may cry and scream and may wake up at night. Sometimes you may be really focused on the baby because the baby needs more help.” Maybe you can have a secret signal with your child when he or she wants you to give a little more attention like a wink or pulling their earlobe.
- When the new baby arrives, have a small gift for your child that comes from the new sibling. Obviously, your newborn can’t pick out the gift, but your older child will appreciate the thought.
- Read a book like “New Baby” by Carol Zeavin and Rhona Silverbush. As you read, ask your child questions about what they think will happen, what they are concerned about and what are they most excited about.
Here are some signs to look out for:
Some children may show signs of regression, such as using baby talk, wetting their bed, wanting to use a diaper again, wanting their parent to feed them again, clinging to you and crying more. In a warm and neutral tone, encourage your child to use the bathroom or feed themselves the way they know how. You may ignore this behavior as long as they are safe, and others are safe. If this behavior continues for more than 4-6 weeks, it is recommended that you reach out to your pediatrician.
A small percentage of children may experience anxiety or what is referred to as an adjustment disorder. A therapist or psychologist will be able to help you and your child through this period of transition.
Sometimes, no matter how hard you prepare, your little one has a hard time adjusting to the new baby—this is perfectly normal. Be supportive and patient and continue to prioritize that one-on-one time you did while you were pregnant. Your child will be taking on their new role as the best big brother or sister in no time!
For more information on the Michael R. Boh Center for Child Development, click here.