Advise Me

5 Tips for Preparing Your Child for a New Sibling

Big changes are on the way as your family gets ready to welcome a new baby. It’s an exciting time, but it can also bring a mix of emotions, especially for older siblings.

Sometimes, they might feel a little unsure or even jealous because the baby needs a lot of attention. The older sibling may also act different than normal, such as being grumpy or upset

We spoke with Michele Stanley, RN, a prenatal and family educator at Banner Health, who helped shed some light on the changes a new baby can bring and some ways to prepare your older child for the arrival of a new brother or sister. 

Include your child from the start

Stanley emphasizes the importance of involving your child early on.

“Having a new baby affects every part of a parent’s life. But siblings need time to adjust as well,” Stanley said. “Start the conversation early in your pregnancy with books, videos or even simple stories.”

You can start by including your child in prenatal appointments and ultrasounds. Imagine the excitement on your child’s face when they see the first glimpse of their future playmate on the ultrasound screen.

To help your child feel important, ask them how they would like to help. Find new ways for them to feel included. Most children love the idea of being a big brother or big sister. Allow them to help decorate the baby’s room, choose baby clothes or even pick out a special gift for the newborn.

“It’s also helpful to point out the cool things older kids can do, like running and playing, picking out their clothes for the day, or even getting themselves a drink — things a new baby can’t do,” Stanley siad.

Acknowledge their feelings

It’s important to talk about your child’s feelings. They may naturally feel jealous or act out with all the attention given to the new baby. 

“Tell them it’s okay to be happy, excited or even scared or sad,” Stanley said. Giving older siblings a chance to express their feelings will help them feel just as important as the new baby. Create a safe space for them by teaching healthy coping methods, like using slow breathing when they feel upset.

Also, reassure them about their place in the family and that your love for them and their importance are unchanged. Talk often about the importance of each family member and how each of you makes your own special contribution. The family needs each person for your family to be  whole.

Teach your child about babies

Help your child understand that babies need a lot of attention and care. For younger children, Stanley suggests playing games to show them pictures or videos of a baby crying, smiling or pouting. “Ask them how the baby might be feeling,” she said. 

Play scenarios of how they can be mommy’s or daddy’s helper, like getting a diaper or choosing an outfit for the baby. Praise their growing responsibility.

“It’s also important to set age-appropriate safety rules,” Stanley noted. “For example, for young children, this may mean no picking up the baby unless you are there to help them.”

Spend quality time together

Amidst the business of the new baby, spend quality one-on-one time alone with your older child. Children often crave attention and validation. Spending quality time communicates that they are still important and loved and strengthens your connection with them.

This time together doesn’t need to be anything fancy. Play a game, go to the park or snuggle and read books together while the baby is napping. 

Expect changes 

Even the best-prepared children might start acting differently once a new baby is on the scene. Stanley said it’s normal. “Behavior that is not typical may happen after bringing a new baby home – I would even expect it.” 

Older siblings may become clingier, start having accidents even when potty trained, or become withdrawn or aggressive. 

Be patient and try to show empathy at these moments. Provide the most attention to appropriate (positive) behaviors rather than making a big deal about inappropriate (negative) behaviors.

Keeping a routine can also be helpful. A regular schedule provides a sense of predictability and security, helping your older child feel more in control and less anxious. 

Bottom line

Preparing for a new baby is a big adventure for the whole family. Through open communication, patience and some adjustments along the way, you can create a happy place where your children grow and have fun together. And, as Stanley wisely advises, remember that nothing has to be perfect.

“Take it one day at a time. It’s okay if some days the family stays in their pajamas and eats dry cereal snuggled in bed,” she said. “Actually, those may be the best days and memories you share for a lifetime.”

For more new baby tips, check out:

Parenting Children's Health Relationships