As new parents, you may have researched and prepared for the massive life transition that was on the horizon with the birth of your first child.
Young children need preparation in much the same way when a new baby is entering the family. All of the newborn characteristics and behaviors that we take for granted are new to your little one. Helping them know what to expect during that big transition can ease some anxiety and hopefully, make them feel more secure and included.
Children ages 2-6 are especially receptive to learning about becoming a big brother or sister. A wide array of feelings is normal, ranging from excitement to jealousy to boredom. Younger children will process this new arrival with less complexity than an older child, but the following is a list of ideas to help ease the transition.
During pregnancy is the best time to discuss what it may be like to have a new baby around. Waiting until your newborn is crying all hours of the day and night makes it a less teachable moment.
Talk to your child about your growing baby. There are so many great resources depicting babies growing in the womb that are geared to young children. Many care providers are happy to have siblings come along to routine prenatal exams and include them in listening to the fetal heartbeat and possibly even see an ultrasound.
Invite your child to talk to the baby while in the womb. Example: “Did you know that your baby brother can hear your voice? You can tell them a story and they will remember it when they come out to greet you!”
Refer to the growing baby as our baby or your baby brother or sister. It can make them feel more connected than my baby or the baby. They love to help come up with baby names too. If Burrito or Bunny isn’t on your list, let them use their own name choice as a nickname.
Show them pictures/videos of when they were just born and talk about what they were capable of (hint: pooping, crying, sleeping, eating) so they know what to expect with a new baby. Understanding that babies won’t be able to play with them early on can lower their expectations of their new siblings.
Read about becoming a sibling. Ask a children’s librarian or search for “sibling books” on Google. Grab a few age-appropriate books and make them a routine part of your shared reading.
Many TV shows geared towards young children have characters that add a new baby to the family like Daniel Tiger and Peppa Pig. It is just another avenue to explore what their experiences could look like.
Play with baby dolls. Buy at least one baby with supplies like a diaper and bottle, and make it available for playing, cuddling, diapering, feeding, etc. It is a great opportunity for your child to practice these skills.
If you have family or friends with a new baby in the house, you can take your child for a short visit to observe a new baby and get to see what they look like and how they act.
Attend a Sibling Preparation Course if you have one locally. It is great to gather with other children to explore fetal growth, birth and infancy. Parent Trust’s Great Starts offers them. You can call 206-789-0883 for more information.
Ask family and friends to pay special attention to the older kids when they come to visit so that older kids do not feel forgotten.
If possible, ask friends and family to help in your home during the first couple of months after your baby is born so that you have time to give your older children attention. Obviously, newborns are very time demanding, but making sure your older child receives attention when possible is crucial to avoid building feelings of resentment.
Know that the first few weeks of adjustment might feel easier than the later months when family and friends are less likely to come and play with your older child. It is common for siblings to regress and have more tantrums when they realize the baby is here to stay. Remember that this is normal and prepare for more toileting accidents, sleep disruption and crankiness during this time. Things will settle back down as your older child adjusts to the new family structure.
This is a long list – pick and choose whatever works for your family!