Preparing Siblings of Any Age for Baby

So you’re expecting a baby—congratulations! But maybe you’re feeling some feelings about bringing home a new baby when you already have a child or children at home. The first thing to know is that it’s normal to have a lot of feelings about the ways in which your family will change, and your kids will probably have a lot of feelings too.

One of the best ways to cope with feelings is to listen and validate (“I hear that you don’t want a new baby in the family. That sounds hard.”) but don’t feel the need to fix or minimize those feelings. And try not to take the feelings personally—we can all feel a lot of ways and not act on them at all. Kids tend to just try feelings out to see how they go over. When you meet their feelings with calm equanimity and demonstrate that you love them regardless of their hard feelings, they’ll feel comforted and secure.

It’s okay to make boundaries, though. In our house, for instance, we say that it’s okay to feel any and all feelings, but it’s not okay to hurt people because of what you’re feeling. Make sure to also validate your own feelings, too: acknowledge that a big change like welcoming a new person into the world can be hard and complex.

Getting a new sibling can be tough, but it can also be awesome. Reading books is a great way to prepare kids for both the highs and the lows of impending siblinghood. One of our favorite books is The New Baby by Fred Rogers—yes, that Mr. Rogers. Using real photos of toddlers and their new siblings, the book introduces the ways that a new big sibling may feel, both positive and negative. There are other great books out there as well, so visit your local library and if you need help finding some, as your librarian for help.

Try not to make big changes connected to the baby. If you want to move your toddler to a twin bed from their crib, for example, don’t make the bed move about the new baby. Instead of mentioning that the new baby will need the crib, focus on that the new bed will be so comfortable and that it will help your toddler sleep really well. If you have time, give the toddler some autonomy to decide when they want to switch. We put the twin bed in our daughter’s room before we encouraged her to sleep in it. One day, she said, “I want to try sleeping in my big bed tonight,” and we never went back.

Along these same lines, if you always do something for your older children, then during pregnancy introduce them to the idea that they can do things for themselves and that other grownups can take care of them too. Whether that’s your co-parent or other family and caregivers, normalize someone else brushing their teeth, making their food, and putting them to bed (or them doing some of these tasks on their own, if it’s age-appropriate). As above, do your best to gradually transition and not mention the connection to the baby.

Make lots of time to connect with your older kids during pregnancy. By necessity, you’ll probably be away from your older children for some amount of time (unless you have a home birth that they attend) during your new baby’s birth, so it’s nice to have lots of quality time together beforehand. Plan to read books together, take a special trip to the park every now and then, or involve them in the new-baby preparations. My then-two-year-old loved “helping” with the belly cast when I was pregnant with her brother.

Have a plan for sibling care during the birth and after. Knowing who is going to take care of your children while you bring their sibling into the world will help you and them feel more comfortable. If you have family or close friends who are willing to be on-call—great! If not, consider a sibling doula, a doula who will be on call to provide childcare to the siblings during their new sibling’s birth.

Finally, trust that your big kids will be okay. This is a big change for everyone, but with some patience and grace for everybody, it will all work out. It may be a difficult season with the new baby, but things change fast with kids and babies. Before you know it, things will be different, which might be a good or bad thing.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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