Expecting a baby is an exciting time for a mother and father. It may not, however, be very exciting news to a brother or sister-to-be. A child may not really understand the implications of having a newborn in the household while his mom is pregnant. After the birth, however, reality will hit and parents will need to be ready with extra compassion and attention to curb potential sibling rivalry. With careful preparation, parents can help an older child adjust to the family’s new addition. Here are three important steps for introducing a new sibling into the family.
Set Expectations Before the Baby’s Arrival
Your child’s age and level of understanding will play a part in how much you tell your child about your pregnancy. An older child may ask a lot of questions, while a toddler may sense there are changes but can’t fully comprehend what is happening. Letting your child feel your baby’s movements and talk to the baby may help. Here are a few ways you can set expectations for a new sibling.
Let your child know about the baby as you tell friends and family so the news of a new sibling doesn’t come second-hand to your child by someone else.
Take your child to prenatal visits to meet your doctor or midwife and hear about how baby is growing.
Show the ultrasound pictures to your child and talk about your baby’s growth. You may also want to show your child the ultrasound photo and pictures of you when you were pregnant with him.
Tell your child his birth story. Show pictures or videos of the birth. Share with him how excited his family was to meet and be with him.
Read books to help your child learn about birth, babies and what it’s like to be a big brother or sister.
Check with the hospital or birth center whether new sibling preparation classes are offered.
Involve your child in preparing for baby’s arrival, whether it is setting up the baby’s room or choosing a new outfit.
If you know someone with a baby, take your child to visit and meet the baby.
Talk about what the early days with baby will be like. Explain that babies need a lot of care and attention. They cry and sleep a lot, they will need to be held, fed and changed often, and they will not be ready to play for several months.
Prepare for Baby’s Arrival
If your child is making a big transition such as starting school, changing to a big kid bed or potty training, making the change several weeks prior to the baby’s birth is ideal.
Keep a regular routine in the weeks and days before your baby’s arrival.
Decide on a job for your child. If he’s visiting after baby is born, he might be the one to call grandma with the news or chooses the blanket that baby will use when leaving the hospital or birth center.
For a homebirth or at a birth center, let your child decide how much of the birth he wants to see. Some children may be more curious about certain stages and it’s important to allow them to choose his level of involvement. Find out from the hospital about rules of children in the birth room.
Be sure to have a friend or family member be 100% available to your child during labor and birth.
Help Your Child Adjust to the New Family Dynamic
Once you’re at home, this is when a new sibling gets real for your older child. Include your child in the daily care of the baby if he wants to help so he doesn’t feel left out. Younger children can be in charge of handing you a fresh diaper at changing time or getting you a glass of water while you are breastfeeding. Older kids can help to burp or dress the baby.
Keep a basket of toys and books nearby to occupy your older child while you are feeding the baby.
Ask friends and family to spend time with your older child and talk about topics of interest to him.
If your child is in school or daycare, continue to send your child to keep up as much of a routine as possible.
Make a point to have both parents build in some daily one-on-one time with your older child so you can reconnect with him.
Above all, make sure your child feels heard about his concerns before and after baby arrives. If your child begins acting out or regressing in behavior, he needs more time and compassion from you.