Pregnancy: Preparing Children for the Birth of a Sibling
The relationship between your children is very important. Preparing your child or children ahead of time for the birth of their new sister or brother will help them adjust when the baby is born. When a new baby is added to your family, it is both a happy and challenging time for a family. Below are some practical suggestions.
Prepare the older child for the new baby.
- Tell your child about his or her "babyhood" — how he or she was born and fed, how you rocked him/her and shared many hugs and kisses.
- Show your child photos when he/she was being fed, held and bathed as a baby.
- Let your child go with you to your prenatal visits. Have your child listen to the fetal heartbeat and feel the baby kick within your uterus.
- Give your child a new doll so he or she can practice caring for a "baby" too.
- Make arrangements for your child's care while you are in hospital. Discuss these arrangements with your child well before the baby's due date. Let them know who will be caring for them while you are in the hospital.
- Register your child for a Sibling Class at the hospital where you will be delivering. Arrange for a tour of the postpartum unit so your child will know where you will be after the birth.
- Get a "I’m the Big Sister or I’m the Big Brother" T-shirt for the older child to wear when the baby is born.
- Prepare the baby's bedroom or sleeping area well in advance, so your child can adjust.
- Place a photo of the older child as a baby at child's eye level in the baby's room or where the family spends the most time.
- Talk with your child about what the new brother or sister will be like. Use books that show pictures of babies and discuss what babies can and cannot do.
- Develop a method of long-distance contact with the older child before going to the hospital. Some ideas are: call the child by phone so he/she will get used to the sound of your voice on the phone; write notes to the child to ask him or her to do small jobs; making a recording of you reading a story to the child.
Involve your child in preparations for the new baby.
- Help mother pack her suitcase for the hospital.
- Help put things out in the baby’s room. Help pick out baby's coming home clothes.
- Help pick out baby's coming home clothes.
Make the baby's homecoming a special event for the whole family.
- Have a birthday cake to celebrate the new baby when you return home from the hospital.
- Let him or her help making birth announcements by drawing pictures, etc.
- Have older child pass out something special to friends, or at school, announcing the baby's birth.
- Have older child and baby exchange gifts. The older child may want to pick out a special gift for the baby.
Involve your child in caring for the new baby by letting him or her:
- Fold or bring the diaper to you.
- Help stock the baby's dressing table with diapers and supplies.
- Sing to their new sibling or tell stories.
- Smile and talk to the baby.
- Hold the baby with supervision.
- Share a few safe and age-appropriate toys with the baby—the older should child keep the toys that are very special to him or her.
Have a learning session for your older child.
Undress your baby, talk about the different parts and functions of the body—using correct terminology. Curiosity often can be satisfied by direct observation. Show your older child how to gently touch the baby’s face, head or hands. Use the words "don't touch" as little as possible.
Allow older child to verbalize negative feelings toward the baby or mother.
- Tell your child that sometimes moms don't feel well during pregnancy. During those times and while mom is in the hospital, dad and the older child may develop an even closer relationship. Take advantage of the developing relationship and encourage it.
- Talk, hold and show affection to the sibling whenever you see signs of jealously or regressive behavior. Some children regress after a younger sibling is born. The areas that may be affected include eating, toileting, crying and sleeping. Don't belittle or scold the older child because of his/her regression; rather, reassure the child and offer praise for his or her "big brother" or "big sister" actions and behavior.
- Jealousy is a common feeling when a new baby comes into a family.
- Praise positive behavior, ignore negative behavior. Reward only those behaviors you want to continue.
- Parents may want to use a task chart with gold stars to encourage positive behavior.
- Reassure the older child that you have enough love for them and the new baby.
Remind the older child that he or she is special too.
- There is certain space in the home that belongs to the sibling exclusively. Parents and baby should respect this space.
- Reinforce your child's role in the family, especially as the older sibling.
- Give your older child "seniority" by providing special jobs and privileges at home so he or she can contribute to the family.
- Be sure to praise the older child when he or she behaves well or does good work.
- Giving your child an allowance may also be important, depending on his or her age.
- Spend time alone with your older child as you are able during the day. This is especially important at bedtime.
- Encourage the child to have a doll or stuffed animal to "take care of."
- Purchase small gifts for the older child. If visitors bring a gift for the baby, and not for the older child, give a previously purchased gift to older child.
- When friends come to visit the new baby, parents should include the older child in conversations or activities. For example, the older child could show the new baby to visitors.
- Provide some planned or special activities for your older child with friends and family.
- Father or both parents should have a planned activity outside of home with the older child only. There should be a routine weekly outing for the sibling (park, restaurant, or library).
Encourage independent behavior.
Some children enjoy knowing they are more capable of caring for themselves and seek ways of becoming more independent as a response to the baby.
- Teach the child independent behavior (at play, dressing or toileting), as appropriate for the child's age.
- Parents may want to use a task chart for children when they help with jobs around the house and with tasks associated with the new baby.
Note: Your local library will have many sources available about the introduction of a new sibling.