The arrival of a new baby can bring many changes to a family. Parents spend
a lot of energy on preparations, and after the baby arrives, much of the family's
attention involves caring for the newborn.
All this change can be hard for older siblings to handle. It's common for them
to feel jealousy toward the newborn and to react to the upheaval by acting out.
But parents can prepare kids for an addition to the family. Discussing the pregnancy
in terms that make sense to kids, making some arrangements, and including kids in
the care of the newborn can make things easier for everyone.
To tell a child about an impending sibling, consider your own comfort level and
your child's maturity level. Preschoolers, for example, may not grasp concepts of
time, so it might not mean much if you say that the baby will arrive in a few months.
It may be more useful to explain that the baby will arrive in a particular season,
such as winter or when it's cold outside.
How much detail should you provide? Let your child's questions be your guide.
For example, a 4-year-old child may ask: "Where do babies come from?" Despite how
it sounds, the child isn't asking you to explain sex but probably wants to know
where, literally, they come from. It may be enough to explain: "The baby comes from
the uterus, which is inside the mother's belly." A child who wants to know more will
If your child shows more interest in the baby, you can encourage that by:
going through your child's baby pictures
reading books about childbirth (make sure they're age-appropriate)
visiting friends who have infants
packing a bag for the hospital
thinking of potential baby names
going to the doctor to hear the baby's heartbeat
Also look into sibling birth classes, which many hospitals offer to provide
orientation for soon-to-be brothers and sisters. These classes can include lessons
on how to hold a baby, explanations of how a baby is born, and opportunities for kids
to discuss their feelings about having a new brother or sister.
Planning for Childbirth
As your due date draws near, make arrangements for older kids for the time when
you're in the hospital. Discuss these plans so kids know what to expect when the day
Consider letting your child visit you in the hospital as soon as possible after
the baby is born, ideally when no other visitors are around — this helps reinforce
the birth as an intimate family event.
Try to keep routines as regular as possible in the days and weeks around the baby's
arrival. If you plan to make any room shifts to accommodate the baby, do it a few
weeks before your due date.
If your child is approaching a major milestone, like potty training or moving
from a crib to a bed, try to make those changes well before your due date or put them
off until after the baby has been home for a while.
Bringing the New Baby Home
Once the baby is home, you can help your other kids adjust to the changes.
Include them as much as possible in the daily activities involving the baby so that
they don't feel left out.
Many kids want to help take care of a new baby. Though that "help" may mean
that each task takes longer, it can give an older child a chance to interact with
the baby in a positive way. Depending on their age, a big brother or sister may
want to entertain the baby during a diaper change, help push the carriage, talk to
the baby, or help dress, bathe, or burp the baby.
If your child expresses no interest in the baby, don't be alarmed and don't force
it. It can take time.
Some occasions, like breastfeeding, excludes older kids. For these times, try to
have toys on hand so that you can feed the baby without being interrupted or worrying
about an older child feeling left out.
Take advantage of chances for one-on-one time with older kids. Spend time together
while the baby is sleeping and, if possible, set aside time each day for older kids to
get one parent's undivided attention. Knowing that there's special time just for them
may help ease any resentment or anger about the new baby.
Also remind relatives and friends that your older child might want to talk about
something other than the new baby. If relatives or friends ask how they can help,
suggest a fun activity or something special for the older child.
Continue to send your older child to childcare or to school, if you're able. It's
normal to feel guilty about sending your older child away since now you're home with
the new baby (and if you're home, you might feel that everyone should be). But
keeping normal routines is helpful for siblings. And this time can give you precious
one-on-one time with the baby that you might not otherwise have. When your older
child comes home from childcare or school, plan for some quality family time.
Dealing With Feelings
With all of the changes that a new baby can bring, some older kids might struggle
as they try to adjust.
Encourage older kids to talk about their feelings about the new baby. If a child
cannot express those feelings, don't be surprised if he or she tests limits or reverts
to speaking in baby talk.
If your child acts up, don't bend the rules, but understand what feelings may be
motivating that behavior. It could be a sign that your child needs more one-on-one
time with you, but make it clear that although his or her feelings are important,
they have to be expressed in appropriate ways.