Is baby number two, three or four on the way? While this is exciting news, many parents wonder how their existing child or children will adjust to the changes ahead. With some thought and planning, we can ease this transition for the whole family. Here are ten tips for helping your current kiddos get ready for their starring role as big brother or sister.
1) Tell them! Often parents are delighted to find out they are expecting again, but worry about telling their existing children too soon.
Children are smart. If something is happening in your home, they will pick up on it. If they don’t know what it is, they are likely to feel anxious. If nine months is barely enough time for us grown-ups to adjust to the idea of a new baby, let’s not short-change our kids. Your child is resilient. Your child is and will be fine because you are guiding and modeling how to take care of your emotions.
2) Get a book. There are some wonderful children’s books available that explain what’s going on during pregnancy and others that share what it means to be a big brother or sister. Kids want to know the logistics. These books can help guide your discussions about the upcoming changes in your home. These are my favorites:
When You Were Inside Mommy, by Joanna Cole
Baby on the Way, by Martha Sears, William Sears, Christie Watts Kelly
I’m a Big Sister, by Joanna Cole
I’m a Big Brother, by Joanna Cole
What Baby Needs, by Martha Sears, William Sears, Christie Watts Kelly
3) Involve your child in getting ready for baby. My older daughter helped me put wall decals up in what was to be the new baby’s room. She was very proud of helping and made it feel like it was her baby too. Any activities your child can do with you to prepare for baby’s arrival help create a feeling that she is a part of the process. When included, your child is more likely to feel the changes are happening "with" her as opposed to happening "to" her.
4) Keep your routine. As with any new adjustments our children must make, keeping the rest of their routines intact will help a great deal. Stick to nap times, bedtimes, and regular activities if at all possible.
Avoid making any other big changes in your child’s world in the months surrounding baby’s arrival. This is not a great time to potty train, or to expect any big routine or behavior changes. If you are hoping to transition your older one to a big kid bed or new room, I advise doing that before the last month or two of pregnancy. Sometimes changes during this time are necessary, and your child will adapt, but it is easier on them if we can keep as much stable as possible.
5) Pick out a baby gift. It can be fun to take the big sibling shopping for a gift for the new baby, and have the new baby get her a gift too! This gives a little bonding from the start and helps cement the idea that there really is a live baby joining the home soon. Homemade gifts are wonderful as well.
6) Expect an adjustment period. Remember, the arrival of a new baby is an adjustment for all of you. Older children may revert back to earlier behaviors, regress in terms of potty training, disrupted sleep or misbehaving. It’s a great time to cut the whole family some slack. Your older child is just feeling a little displaced and is exploring other ways to claim space. If we focus on it, they get the message that their tactics are working. Showing empathy and compassion is a quicker way to get your child back on track than engaging in a power struggle over these regressions.
7) Make time for your older child. After baby arrives, make sure you have some regular special time planned with your older child that he or she can count on each day. Even if it’s just 15 minutes of uninterrupted time alone with you, this will help him or her continue to feel connected.
8) Give them a baby of their own. Some kids enjoy having a baby doll of their own to care for. They like having diapers for their baby and can change theirs when the new baby needs a change. They make some fun baby doll carriers so he or she can mimic you and where their baby as well. If your son or daughter imitates nursing, don’t worry: It’s absolutely normal and just their chance to explore what they see happening around them.
9) This time is different. Remind yourself early and often that life will never be identical for your second or subsequent children to how it was with your first. It feels like we are not giving the second as much as we gave the first, but they have the added benefit of an experienced, more relaxed parent and a sibling who pays attention to them. They are different people and will have their own individual needs and experiences, and that is just fine.
10) Remember to get support. I often see parents of second children jumping back in to the normal routine so quickly that they barely get to acknowledge the big changes that are happening in their lives.
I remember my fear the first time I had to get two little ones out the door by myself. The new stuff is still new, and you have the same hormone changes as your body recovers from pregnancy and childbirth. And most of us don’t receive the same kind of doting and care that we may have received after the birth of our first.
Whatever your feelings, birth experience or adjustment to a second or subsequent child, remember to take care of yourself if you really want to care for your children. Just because you didn’t need a postpartum doula or lactation support the first time, doesn’t mean you won’t the second time. Let go of the self-talk that tells us we should have it all under control this time around and get the support you need to take care of yourself and your older child.
Being mindful of how to prepare your child for a new sibling can help ease the transition for the whole family. Then comes the most amazing part, watching the sibling relationship grow.
Sarina Behar Natkin, LICSW, is a parent educator and consultant in the Seattle area. She is co-owner of Grow Parenting, where this piece was originally posted.