Expecting another baby? How to prepare your child(ren) to be a big brother or sister

Are you expecting another child? Congratulations! What an exciting (and overwhelming and sometimes even terrifying) time in your life! How will you tell your child and then prepare him or her to welcome their new sibling with open arms? The truth is there is only so much that you can control and that in all reality it is perfectly normal and expected for kids of any age, but especially young kids, to act out in some way once a new baby arrives. Below are some things to keep in mind however, that might help you and your family adjust to the transition of welcoming a new family member.

If you are pregnant, it is best not to tell a young child until you are really showing (and once the risk for miscarriage diminishes): It is often hard for little ones to understand pregnancy and especially if your belly looks the same as it did before. Wait until you are showing and then gently explain that you have a baby in your tummy. Explain in age-appropriate language and with only as much detail as needed. Depending on their age, it may be hard for children to wrap their minds around this at first, but the more pregnant women you point out and the more you discuss it, they will eventually understand – as much as they need to! Additionally, I highly recommend waiting until your risk for miscarriage lowers, for as hard as loss is on us it is far harder to undertsand for our little ones and can be scary and even traumatizing for them.

Make any major changes in your home or routines before baby arrives: If your older child is just about to start using the potty or moving to a big boy bed – start this well in advance of baby’s arrival (if possible). If he is going to move into a new room – shift the attention to him becoming a big boy in a big boy room and away from making space for the baby. Keep other routines or activities (soccer, dance, swimming lessons, etc.) as consistent as possible or initiate the change prior to baby’s arrival. Kids need consistency to feel safe, secure and grounded, so especially when their world is about to turn upside down maintain what you can for them!

Spend as much quality time as you can with your child(ren) before new baby arrives (and after too): Build those memories with your older child and strengthen that bond you share before the new baby arrives. Go to the park, get down on the floor, take silly photos together, get ice cream, go for walks, read together, get manicures, lay just a little extra longer in their bed at night or read that extra story…make them feel as special as you know they are before they have to share your attention! Build on that foundation you already have with your child; reassure him of your bond, of your love, of his importance to you as you know that both your life and his is about to turn upside-down, at least for a little while, once baby arrives! Maintain special time with your older child, a date if you will, on a regular basis once baby arrives. The reality is that much of your attention will be going to the new baby so having that special one-on-one time with your older child will be extra special for both of you and especially reinforcing for him!

As you get ready for baby, involve and prepare your older child as much as you can: Many moms find it helpful to read their children books on becoming a big brother or sister and this is a great way to start planting the seeds that a new little one is on the way! You can also talk with them about possible baby names as it can be fun and a light-hearted way to talk about the baby. Our baby, due shortly, has been named all sorts of names by our four year old from Popcorn to Baby’s Bottle to Tisha to Katie…the possibilities are endless! It might also be useful to show your child photos of when he/she was a baby and how excited you were when they first came home! Many moms find it helpful and meaningful to ‘exchange’ gifts between baby and the older child. One mom shared that her son “bought the new baby a gift, a lovee” that he picked out before his sister was born and gave to her in the hospital, which seemed to help him feel more involved in her arrival. Another mom took this a step further “making sure baby [had] her special gift at naps and in photos,” and making a big deal about this for older brother. Talk with your child about being a big brother or sister and how important they will be to their little sibling who will learn everything from them!

Once baby arrives, include your older child in the experience as much as possible: Dallas mom Jennifer shared that her son got to hold the baby before anyone else, as soon as she came, and she feels this is extremely important no matter what time of day (or night) baby is born. Another mom, Lauren, shared that when big sister first came to the hospital “I told her it was her baby brother’s birthday party…[and] we blew bubbles and celebrated together!” Older kids, even preschoolers, can help once baby is born, giving them a sense of purpose and inclusion in their new upside-down world! Katie, mom of two, shared that it can be helpful to “ask older siblings to bring a diaper when changing [or] when bathing baby ask older siblings to bring a towel…little gestures to include the older sibling…[so they] feel included, loved and important”. Once their baby girl arrived, Dallas mom Ashley introduced her as “Corbin’s baby sister,” which seemed to give Corbin a sense of importance and pride as the big brother!

Expect your older child to react in some way as he/she deals with the transition, especially if he has been an only child thus far, and always meet him with love: Remember that your child is used to being the only child, the only attention, your everything and that it is natural for him to react in some way! As Leena from Dallas so eloquently put it “expect the unexpected, no matter how much you feel like you have prepared your child….[and always meet him] with compassion and love [as he deals with] overwhelming emotions”. Have empathy for your child and help him to process those new emotions. Never tell your child to not be jealous or not be angry or not be frustrated, as he is, and those are all human and acceptable emotions. Rather teach him how to experience such emotions in a healthy manner, how to work through them, and let him know that you understand him, that you love him, and that it is all ok.

Lastly…breathe, sleep when possible, take care of yourself so that you can take better care of all of your children and remember that you too are human. Enjoy the process!

Galit Birk, PhD is a PCI Certified Parent Coach® and Owner of CORE Parent Coaching based in Dallas, Texas. She writes regularly for the CORE blog and guest blogs for Dallas Child Magazine’s various blogs.