How to prepare your child for a new sibling

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Welcoming a new baby in the family is exciting but can also be challenging for older siblings. How you tell your child about their new sibling and prepare them for this big change, will vary depending on their age. However, there are several rules of thumb to help make the transition as smooth as possible.

When it comes to a new bawling baby, sibling rivalry and jealousy can rear its ugly head, making the situation much harder for everyone. Therefore, preparing your child in advance and ensuring they feel included can contribute to your family’s happiness.

To help with this process, we’ve put together a checklist that you can use with your older child to get them ready for the arrival of their sibling. Luckily, you have months to prepare.

1. When’s the right time to tell them?

As early as possible is always best for numerous reasons. For starters, your child will have plenty of time to get used to the idea of a sibling. If your child is very young and is used to jumping on you, telling them early on can prevent this. Similarly, if you’re experiencing morning sickness, letting your child know early on can ease their anxiety.

Telling your little human early on is also a great idea because it allows them to ask questions and spend extra alone time with mum and dad before their baby sibling arrives. Be sure to use age and developmentally appropriate language to explain the situation to your child so they fully comprehend what you’re saying.

Furthermore, be sure to emphasize how great this news is and all the good things a new sibling will contribute to the family. For instance, you can talk about how having a new sibling means one extra person to love, teach, and play with.

2. Don’t overdo it

Yes, emphasize how a new sibling is good, but don’t create the illusion of rose-tinted glasses. Bringing a new baby home is not without difficulty, babies take work, they cry a lot, and they need round-the-clock attention; make sure your child can grasp this.

You can gently explain that babies can’t feed themselves, walk, or change their diapers; they cry often and can sometimes be up all night. You should also clarify that the baby is too little to play with your older sibling and can’t talk yet.

Remind them to always be gentle, and encourage small actions like kissing their sibling’s toes. In your explanation, ensure they know you’ll still make time for them.

To help your child understand further, show them photos of when they were little and explain how they were given special attention. If you have friends or relatives with infants, now would be a good time to take your child over to see what they are like and interact with them.

3. Establish a ritual

To ensure that your older child does not feel neglected, set aside time each day before the new baby arrives to read a book or play a game. Continue these daily activities even after the baby arrives.

The alone time you spend with your older child will help to reassure them. It will also minimize your guilt if you unconsciously and inadvertently spend more time with the little one.

4. Keep your older child involved

Include your child in this big change by involving them in the preparations for their new sibling. By doing so, you can avoid feelings of abandonment, and ensure your child feels, loved, wanted, and like a valued part of your growing family.

You could let them help decorate the nursery, by asking where the rug or blanket should go. Allow them to pick out clothes like socks, burp cloths, and maybe some toys (You might want to purchase a couple for them too). If your child is older, for example, eight, ask their opinion on names.

If your child sees the baby’s things as theirs, that’s okay. Your newborn will be too small to care for a while. But try to avoid asking your older sibling to share his toys, this may increase their sense of displacement, and we all know toddlers aren’t big on sharing.

5. What should you expect closer to the birth?

No matter how much you prepare your child for the arrival of their sibling, they may still become needy, seek attention, and act as if they are younger. For instance, if they’re toilet-trained, they may begin to have “accidents”, ask for a bottle, or want to wear a diaper.

These types of regressive behaviors are common when you bring a new baby home. Your child simply wants to show you that they need you, and they act out to get the attention they long for. Most toddlers don’t comprehend that babies have different needs or why they are being treated differently which causes them to act out.

To help with this, you can praise them for the age-appropriate things they do and even assign them developmentally appropriate tasks to make them feel special.

6. Baby’s arrival

Once you head out to the hospital, your older child might become anxious. To ease this, you can explain that you’ll be home soon with their new sibling. If your child is older, let them visit you and their new sibling at the hospital.

Remember to keep your older child involved once you arrive home. Let them help out with the baby’s daily routine. Allow them to be present during feedings, watch you change baby’s clothes, hold the bottle, hand you a diaper, or help dry baby after a bath.

Also, be cognizant of the language you use with your older child. For example, saying, “I can’t color with you because I have to feed baby,” could foster resentment. Instead, say, “I’ll color with you soon,” or “Why don’t you bring a book for us to read now.” 

Eventually, your older child will come to love and adore their little sibling, so don’t worry. Take it day by day, and give yourself grace; you’ll do a good job no matter what.

Sources:

  1. How to prep your older child for a new sibling. 2023. Child Mind Institute. Preparing Your Child for a New Sibling
  2. Preparing your older child for a new sibling. Baby Center. Preparing your child for a new sibling: Overview.
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