Welcoming a new baby into the family is an exciting time, but it can also be a bit overwhelming for everyone. Preparing your children for the arrival of a new baby can help relieve their anxieties and help them adjust to the changes that will come with a new addition to the family (and of course this can help settle some of your own nerves too!)
Here are some tips to help prepare your children to meet the new baby, even prenatally:
Just like you would with any big change, explain what to expect when the baby comes home, and answer any and all questions they may have. You can read books about new babies together, watch videos that explain how babies grow
and develop. Think exposure therapy!
“This is where the baby is going to sleep.”
“Soon the baby will be here to play with you!”
“This is the car seat where your brother/sister will sit next to you in the car.”
Involving your children in getting ready for the baby can help them feel a sense of importance and connection with the incoming new addition. Bring them to your doctor’s appointments. Take them shopping and ask them to help you choose baby clothes, books, toys, and other items. Involve them in the preparations at home. Decorating the baby’s room together can be a fun family activity!
Help your children understand their role as big brothers or sisters. Explain to them that they will have an important job helping to take care of the baby. You can practice tasks like diaper changes, bathing, burping, and feeding (with supervision, of course). This will help them feel important and needed when the time comes. Let them know they’re doing a great job whenever they help you. Praise will make them feel like a superhero!
Explain that they were once a baby too! Talk about what it was like when they were tiny, how exciting it was to nurture and help them grow, and how lucky they are to be able to watch this unfold as a big brother/sister.
It is important for your child to understand that there will be changes to your daily routine. Knowing ahead of time that babies mainly eat, sleep, cry and poop for the initial months will be helpful in preventing the assumption that they will have an instant playmate. Use a doll to simulate the reality of feeding, changing, soothing, napping, repeat. Remind them that when the baby is sleeping, this will mean quiet time for the rest of the family.
Your child may have some complex emotions once the baby is actually here. It’s impossible to predict how they will react, even if you do all the preparations! Often, children who were excited leading up to the birth become jealous or resentful afterwards. Alternatively, sometimes children who were disinterested become very interested and involved once the reality sets in. Respect their feelings, and their boundaries. If they don’t want to interact, don’t force it. They will come around eventually.
Little kids love to play make-believe. Let them use a doll or teddy bear to simulate what you’re doing with the baby. You can set up a pretend diaper changing station, crib, etc so they can do what you’re doing. This keeps them occupied and interested in the same things you’re doing, at least some of the time! While their “baby” won’t need to be cared for as regularly, doing baby care tasks alongside you occasionally can help them feel the connection with you since they have the same “job.”
Ask your child to fetch the baby a new diaper, or some cream, or pick out their outfit for the day.
If you are nursing, ask them to bring you snacks, water, or any other supplies you may need. If possible, let them cuddle up to you and talk to the baby while they eat. Keep in mind that it is normal for siblings, especially toddlers, to be jealous while the baby is feeding. If this happens, be sure to explain that the baby is eating to grow big and strong enough to play with them!
While it’s important to involve your children in caring for the new baby, it’s also important for them to have one-on-one time with you. Set aside some time each day to do something they enjoy. It can be as simple as taking a walk, reading a story, or running errands together! This will help them feel loved and valued, even with the new baby in the house. Remember, acting out is likely due to difficulty adjusting, and missing having uninterrupted time with you.
Children thrive on routine. While a new baby will inevitably throw a wrench into that, keeping your older child’s daily routine as close to consistent as possible will help their adjustment.
Adjusting to a new baby can be challenging for everyone, especially for older siblings. They may feel pressure with their new role as big sister/brother. Be patient with your child as they adapt to the changes in your family. Encourage them to talk about their feelings and concerns, and reassure them that they are still loved and important. Outbursts are not uncommon during this time, as your children are trying to get your attention in whatever way they can. They went from having your full attention to having to compete for it with a new baby! We know it can be tough, but this too shall pass. Be sure to continue to let your child know that they are loved and deserving of your time.
We hope these tips are helpful in making a smooth transition so your child can share in the exciting experience of growing your family!