Preparing your first child for a new baby
Here’s how you can help ease your firstborn into becoming a big brother or sister.
The moment you brought your first child home, your life forever changed. The moment you bring your second child home, you will be forever changing someone else’s life — the older sibling’s. Here are some ways you can lessen the ensuing jealousy/confusion/ “hey, what the heck just happened and why didn’t anyone consult me first?” tumult that your older child might be feeling.
- Start preparing them early: Most parents wait to tell the older sibling until near the end of the first trimester. You can look through old pictures and videos of when your first child was born to help explain what will be happening, the special time that is coming and what special time has already occurred.
- Read books: Our favorites were “On Mother’s Lap” and “The New Baby” in the Little Critter series. The first book is a explanation about regardless of how many things are on mother’s lap, there is always space for her children. The second explains how older siblings can connect with a new baby who is not as interactive as they probably expect.
- Go on dates: Before each of our babies was born, my husband and I made sure to spend one-on-one time with the big siblings. Once the baby comes, especially for the first few months, you will be so busy with them. It’s nice to get in some alone time with the older kids beforehand. During those times, I would always tell them how they will be the best big siblings and how they have wonderful qualities to pass along to the new baby.
- Time your transitions: If big siblings need to move into a big kid bed before the new baby arrives, try to plan months ahead or save it for later, not right before. Same thing goes with potty training, starting preschool or any new endeavors.
- Involve them: Let the big sibling help pick out decorations for the nursery and new toys for the baby. Let them bring you diapers, read them books while you feed the baby and involve them as much as you can so they feel like a useful part of the team.
- Go to the dollar store: It sounds silly, but it works. Once you share news of your newest one, grandparents, relatives and friends will be sending gifts. Usually, they are all for the new baby. Rest assured, this is usually not lost on big sibling. I kept a stack of small toys from the dollar store that I would wrap and throw in the packages so that older sibling would have something to open and feel that people were thinking of them just as much.
- Be patient: It is common for older children to regress in their behaviors, aggressively act out and generally not be their best selves when a new baby comes into the picture. Remember to shower praise when you can and be firm but understanding when you can’t. Your house rules should not change during this transition, but a little extra cuddling after time-outs is OK.
When the new baby arrives, there will be a period of weeks to months of adjustment for the family. There may be some tears and moments when you feel guilty about your attention and time being split between your children. Remember that you have given each of them the precious gift of one another and a bond that can last a lifetime.
Maya Neeley, M.D., is a board-certified pediatrician specializing in hospital medicine at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. She adores her husband and four young boys and loves spending time with family and good friends. As a child, she always dreamed of becoming a children’s book illustrator but for now she just dreams of getting a good night’s sleep.