Most parents realize the importance of preparing their child for the arrival of a new sibling. It will be a very exciting event with significant changes in her life as well as the family. There is no right or wrong way to prepare your child. The most important thing is to take the time to show and tell your child about these changes.
The following tips are some guidelines to help with your preparation.
- It is never a good idea to spring something new on a sibling. Nine months will seem like an eternity to a child if you start your discussions too early in the pregnancy. Depending on the age of the child, a good rule of thumb is to start discussing this event sometime in the middle of the second trimester. If you have morning sickness, fatigue, start to show early or there are changes in your child’s daily routine, you may have to start these discussions earlier. If your child is older(5 +), she may start asking questions sooner if she does notice any changes. You will have many discussions during your pregnancy about the new baby, one time won’t do it!
- If you are anxious about this pregnancy, be careful not to let it spill over into the discussions. It is not necessary to share all the details. Find a friend to share your nervousness with. Children should be allowed to be children and not have to take on adult anxieties.
- Discuss this event with age appropriate descriptions. You don’t need to get into a detailed sexual discussion with a 6 year old. My parents talked about how much they loved each other and how at night when they were in bed and hugged each other real close a seed was planted in mommy’s tummy that grew into me! Maybe a little hokey, but satisfied my curiosity. If your 2 year old pats your tummy, tell her that this is the new baby and she is going to be a big sister. Show her a baby doll and talk about feeding it the bottle and changing its diaper, etc. But remember, sometimes less is best. Too many details will go in one ear and out the other. Kind of like telling your toddler to pick up her toys, brush her teeth, go potty and get ready for her bath all in the same sentence! Let your child’s age and comfort level govern your discussions.
- Take your child with you to a doctor’s appointment and let her hear the baby’s heartbeat. Let her feel your tummy when the baby kicks. These things will make her feel like she is an important part of this upcoming event.
- No matter what the age of your child, tell her she is going to be a “Big Sister/Brother” and how exciting this will be. Make this the big deal it is! You can even buy a shirt that says “I’m the Big Sister/Brother” and give it to your older child as a gift from the new baby when you bring her home from the hospital.
- If your child is old enough to understand, discuss how she will be able to help mommy and daddy with the new baby. Talk about helping you feed her,(holding the bottle), if you are going to nurse, how she can help you burp the baby, help get her dressed or at bath time, etc. Try and prepare her in a positive way making her feel like she will play a big part in this wonderful event. If she is not interested, don’t push it.
- Get a few age appropriate books about new babies from the library and read them together. You can also watch videos about becoming a “Big Sister/Brother.” Blues Clues has a video called Meet Blues Baby Brother that is a great tool to use when talking about a new baby. Also some hospitals and libraries offer sibling preparation classes.
- If your child is older, let her help you pick out her old baby toys to give to the new baby. And talk about how she will be able to teach the new baby to hold the rattle, play with the keys, etc. Reminisce about when she was a baby. Make this event special!
- If you have friends with new babies, try and expose your child to them. Let her see that it’s okay for a baby to cry, that you have to be gentle, that new babies take lots of naps and she won’t be able to play with the baby at first.
- If you are going to stay overnight in the hospital, make sure your child knows who will be staying with her. This is not the time to have a new baby sitter come and help you. If she is going to stay at grandma’s or a friends house, do a dry run. There is nothing worse than being in the hospital and getting that dreaded phone call that your child won’t stop crying and wants to come home.
- A short time before you go to the hospital, take your child to the store and let her buy a special gift to give to the baby when she comes home. Let her take it with her if she is staying at grandma’s or a friend’s house for safe keeping. This will help her feel like she is a part and give her “big girl responsibility!
- If you are going to give birth at home with your child there, introduce her to the midwife, doula, etc. a few times before the event. Ask them to talk with your child if she is older, show her an age appropriate book, etc. And above all, decide ahead of time if you want her in the room during the delivery. There is nothing more frightening to a child than hearing her mommy screaming in pain and being ushered out of the room. While it is a personal decision, remember it can be very frightening for a child to hear or see their mommy hurting and not comprehending that this will result in a wonderful miracle!
- If you are going to move your child into a “big girl bed” before the baby arrives try and make the move at least three months before the baby is born. You want to leave enough time for this new adjustment. There is nothing worse than having two children crying in the middle of the night!
- If you are going to enroll her in childcare or change preschools, leave plenty of time to make this change. A few months at the very least. If you don’t have this time element available, take your child to the new place and introduce her to the caregivers. Visit a few times. Ask if she can stay for the morning. Too many new changes all at once will make it more difficult for the entire family.
- It is not necessary to shower your older child with lots of gifts when the new baby arrives. One or two gifts from the baby, mommy and daddy for being a new “Big Sister/Brother” is plenty. A pair of pajamas is a great gift! Gifts don’t replace mommy and daddy’s love and attention.
- It’s okay to ask grandma to help take care of your older child until you get your strength back. Once you feel better, try and do something special with your child while the baby naps. Something as simple as watching a video together while drinking hot chocolate with marshmallows will make her feel just as special as the new baby! Don’t worry, the laundry and dishes will still be there. Making your children your first priority will make for an easier transition.
- Don’t be upset if your child is jealous and tells you to “take that baby back.” This is all very normal. Some children think this baby has arrived to replace them. Try and do one special activity with them once or twice a week. It doesn’t have to be something that takes lots of energy. Sitting at the table and coloring together, or making a boxed brownie mix, pudding, etc. will convey the message of love. And don’t forget to ask daddy have his special time too!
- Start a new ritual with your older child. Something as simple as cuddling with them for 10 minutes before bed each night. Reading a special book in bed…something for just the two of you to share and show your love.
- Take a picture of your child with her new baby sister/brother and tape it to the baby’s crib as well as putting it in a frame for the new “Big Sister/Brother” to display in her room.
- If your child is in preschool, ask her teacher to make a big deal of this new event. An activity like having all the children draw their families would be great. Send a picture of the two siblings to school for show and tell or even one of the baby’s toys or bottles to show!
- Above all, don’t feel guilty about not having the same amount of time to spend with your first child. As you adjust to having two children and working out a special time for your firstborn, you will see that quality versus quantity is what counts most. And don’t forget to say lots of “I Love You’s!”
Blythe Lipman is the president of Baby Instructions. She is passionate about babies, toddlers and their parents. After working in the field for over twenty-five years, she wrote her third award-winning book, HELP! MY BABY CAME WITHOUT INSTRUCTIONS which is available at www.babyinstructions.com, . You can hear Blythe’s weekly radio show on Wednesdays, 11am EST @ http://www.toginet.com Blythe is available for in-home, video and telephone consultations. Become her Fan on Facebook and Twitter.
©Blythe Lipman 2011