Preparing Your Child for a Sibling

Expanding your family is an exciting time but preparing your children for the addition of a baby can be tricky.  Dr. Jessica Long gives her professional, as well as personal, advice on how to prepare your child for a sibling.

When I was pregnant with my second child, I was concerned about how an additional baby would transform the dynamic in our household.  I was most worried about how it would change, for better or worse, life for my oldest. Would she resent her baby sister? Would it affect her relationship with me?  Is it even possible to love multiple children equally (spoiler alert: it is!)?

I spent a lot of sleepless nights brainstorming how to make the transition from only child to big sister as smooth as possible.  While there were certainly hiccups along the way (and, to be honest, there continue to be 3 years later), having a sibling has been the best thing to happen to my sweet firstborn.  So much so that we gave her another!

When preparing your child for the arrival of a baby, get them involved as much as is developmentally possible.  Have your oldest help pick out or make artwork for the nursery, choose some books for the bookshelf, and put clothes in the drawers with you.  Talk about the baby and reminisce about when your oldest was a newborn by looking at pictures together.  There are lots of good books, for kids of all ages, that talk about having a sibling in language they will understand.  Communicating with your child and getting them involved in preparing for the baby’s arrival will make your big kid feel part of the excitement.

Make sure you prepare your oldest for what it will be like when you go to have the baby.  Let them know you’ll be gone for a few days but that some fun special things will happen (Grandma is going to have a sleep over with you or Daddy is going to take you to the Zoo that day).  If you decide to have your child visit you at the hospital, have the baby snuggled in the bassinet and not in your arms so you are 100% available for big kid hugs and cuddles before the sibling introduction occurs. Having a small present “from the baby” to the big sibling also works magic – nothing like a little bribery to get the relationship off to a good start.

Once you are home, expect some unusual behavior.  Sometimes children regress and your toilet trained three-year old-may start having accidents, or your eighteen-month-old who sleeps through the night suddenly starts a sleep protest.  Give it time – everything will get back to normal soon.  Though your newborn needs most of your time and attention, try to block off some alone time for just you and your oldest each day.  You’ll appreciate the one-on-one time as much as she will.

Try to keep the sixty days before and after the birth of a sibling as laid back for your older child as possible.  That is not the time to transition from a crib to a toddler bed, start potty training, or throw out the pacifier.  As things settle down, your child will get back to her old routine.

My only other advice is to think long and hard about when you tell your child you are expecting.  Be prepared that they will ask you every single day thereafter if today is the day the baby is coming.  So learn from my mistakes and consider keeping that a secret and save your sanity for a bit longer.