How to Help Your Child Become a Great Big Sibling

Expecting another baby?  Congratulations! Watching your family grow is very exciting.  However, one person who may not be on board with all the excitement is your older child, especially if he or she is a toddler.  It can be hard to understand that mom’s growing tummy contains a real baby who will soon be coming home to stay, and the child may worry that the new child will displace him and get all the parents’ love and attention.  Try to understand things from your child’s perspective, and be patient. He’ll come around eventually. In the meantime, try these tips:

Before Baby Arrives

  • Read some books about becoming a big brother or sister (like The New Baby at Your House by Joanna Cole [Harper Trophy, 1997]).  Look at your child’s baby pictures together.
  • Buy and wrap some small presents to give to your older child when visitors bring presents for the baby.
  • Make sure your child is sleeping where she will be when the baby comes home several months before the big day.  A newborn can fit in a bassinet for several months if your older child isn’t ready to give up her crib yet.
  • Bring the older child with you to some doctors appointments; see if your hospital offers a big sibling preparation class.
  • Expect mixed emotions from your child.  It’s ok to be mad or sad or scared about the new baby, and these feelings often show themselves in regression of new skills, especially potty training.  Be accepting, and don’t ask your child to be “grown up” right now; he needs reassurance.
  • Get a doll and practice holding, changing, feeding, and above all being gentle.  
  • Consider having mom record some bedtime stories for while she is in the hospital.

In the Hospital

  • Make sure when your older child arrives to visit that the baby is in the bassinet, not mom’s arms.  Be her mom first, and then look at the baby together.
  • Try to keep the older child’s routine as unchanged as possible.
  • Bring a gift to the hospital to give to your older child from the baby.  Anyone who brings a present can’t be all bad, right?

After You Go Home

  • Set aside 5 minutes a day for your older child to have alone and uninterrupted with each parent, and never threaten to take this away.  For a child who doesn’t yet understand time, it doesn’t matter when you do it, but you can talk all day about how much you are looking forward to your special mommy or daddy time alone together while you are still busy with the baby.
  • Talk to your baby about how special his big brother is and how much his brother knows already and will teach him when he is ready.  This helps toddlers feel valuable and important.
  • Let your child hold the baby while sitting on a chair or couch to keep everyone safe.
  • Interpret your baby’s actions positively.  “See how much the baby likes holding your hand?  She loves you!”
  • Be patient.  It may take a little while, but soon your toddler will be just as enthralled with the new addition to the family as you are.  If you have any specific concerns, be sure to give your pediatrician’s office a call.