Preparing is wonderful, but remember to also let go of expectations. It’s going to be okay. And you’re adding joy to your family!
However old the older sibling is, they are aware and being honest with them is important.
Preparing for newborns can be hectic even if it’s your second or third time around. Typically we don’t prepare one of the most important family members – the older sibling! And the approach we use for introducing and preparing the older sibling for baby is important.
I would suggest, introducing the new baby to your older sibling while the baby is in a neutral space like the car seat or a bassinet rather than your arms. This can make your older child feel less scared that they are being replaced. Also avoiding big transitions during this time is important. Do not try to potty train or sleep train the older sibling when the new baby comes. When things seem chaotic or new in a toddler’s life, they will thrive off of some resemblance of a routine.
DON’T panic if they don’t know how to hold or nurture a baby. That is not their job. They will learn after baby is born too on how to be gentle.
Now, how we approach preparing them for this new transition, may be different depending on your child’s development.
If your child is 1-20 months:
At this age, your child may not understand what’s happening if you tell them, “oh I’m having a baby”. So, here are some suggestions that may help with the transition to becoming an older sibling.
- Model excitement and joy about the arrival. Children feed off our emotions and modeling. If they feel you are stressed about the baby’s arrival and how it will impact the older sibling, they will sense that. Fill the home with love and excitement so they can feel that too.
- Role play. Play with a baby doll and pretend the baby is crying and you (the parent) are calming them.
- Read books. If you have books with babies, read them and point out the babies.
If your child is 20 months-4 years old:
At this age, your child is still very attached to you and does not yet understand how to share you with others. Your child also may be very 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.
- Be honest. Explain that the baby will be cute and cuddly but will also cry and take a lot of your time and attention. Also, 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 him just as much after the baby is born as you do now. Be patient with them and yourself. Also, make the arrival matter-of-fact. No need to sugar-coat anything. By hiding emotions and feelings, we can make it harder for everyone.
- Don’t hide the fact that a new baby is coming: Show them your belly. Explain that a baby is coming. That you will leave to have the baby and come back with a new brother or sister.
- Role play: Play sounds of a crying baby and explain what that is to your toddler. You can role play with a play doll and show how you will calm them down (don’t expect them to calm them down). Continue looking at books and introducing the concept of a baby.
- Involve your toddler in planning for the baby. This will make him less jealous. Let him/her pick out a special toy for the baby or clothes or a book for baby as a gift
Regardless of age, here are a few other tips for prepping the older sibling:
- When the new baby arrives, try to do something special for your older child. Reassure her that she is still loved. Some ideas include giving her a special gift, letting her spend some time alone with dad, grandma, or another special adult, or taking her someplace special. Creating this special 1:1 time with someone that isn’t primary caregiver will make them feel like they’re not being replaced.
- Set aside special time for your older child. Read, play games, listen to music, or simply talk together. Show him that you love him and want to do things with him. Also, make him feel a part of things by having him cuddle next to you when you feed the baby.
- Understand your child to regress a little. For example, your toilet-trained child might suddenly start having “accidents,” or he might want to take a bottle. This is normal and is your older child’s way of making sure he still has your love and attention. Instead of telling him to act his age, let him have the attention he needs. Praise him when he acts more grown-up. Focus on positive reinforcement. Sometimes all the prep you do can still make it where they have big feelings.
- Get them used to kissing feet. Make this something special for them. From a germ perspective, respiratory illnesses are more likely to spread face to face into mucous membranes, but let your toddler have kissing their feet be their special way to bond. You can even say this is special for you too.