Preparing for a New Baby: Helping Older Children Adjust

My husband and I will be welcoming our second child this August. As excited as we are about our newest addition, we also recognize this will shift our family dynamics and be an adjustment for ourselves and our son, Thomas, who will be 21 months when his brother or sister arrives.

Child wearing his big brother sweater.
Child wearing his big brother sweater – Photo: Rachel Sweeney

Pregnancy and adding a new baby bring about a lot of changes that may cause Thomas to feel scared or rejected. Oklahoma State University Extension has compiled a helpful table of things to do and say as you prepare older siblings for a new baby sibling. I’m planning to print off this chart and post it on the fridge so I can easily reference it. Too often, parents may emphasize things children should not do with babies. It is recommended that parents give more attention to showing children ways they can have a safe and enjoyable time together. An older child needs to know how to play with a baby, how they can communicate, and how to handle conflict and frustration.

It is also important to consider the age of the older sibling and what is age-appropriate for them as they welcome home a new sibling. The Child Mind Institute offers great age-specific tips to prepare older children for a new sibling.3

Strategies to Help Older Children Adjust:

  • Expose and introduce them to other newborns and babies: this gives them the opportunity to interact with babies and demonstrate how they should behave around babies. My sister has an eight-month-old daughter, so I have been more intentional about holding her when Thomas is around.
  • Read books about babies: the list below can get you started, and you can also check with your local librarian for suggestions.  
    • I Am a Big Sister (Church, 2015, Cartwheel Books).
    • I Am a Big Brother (Church, 2015, Cartwheel Books).
    • My New Baby (Fuller, 2009, Child’s Play International).
    • Peter’s Chair (Keats, 1967, Harper & Row).
    • A Pocket Full of Kisses (Penn, 2006, Tanglewood).
    • 101 Things to Do with a Baby (Ormerod, 1984, Puffin Books).
    • She Come Bringing Me that Little Baby Girl (Greenfield, 1974, Harper Trophy).
    • A New Baby at Koko Bear’s House (Lansky, 1987, The Book Peddlers).
  • Create a special basket of toys for when I am caring for the baby: only use these toys when doing something with the baby that needs all my focus. Several items I plan to put in this basket include a self-propelled plane, dimple fidget toys, and books with sound.
  • Each parent spending individual time (10-15 minutes) with older child: this is a routine to begin before the baby arrives and to continue after the baby arrives. It is important that this time include no younger siblings, no screens, and no other distractions. Make child-directed play the goal; meaning your child chooses what and how to play, and you follow their lead.
Child practicing how to give a pacifier on his baby doll.
Child practicing how to give a pacifier on his baby doll. Photo source: Rachel Sweeney
  • Purchase a doll and practice skills such as holding, diapering, and feeding: this can help teach children how to rock, hug, cuddle, and even feed and diaper a baby by practicing first on a doll. I am planning to snag one of these at a garage sale this spring.
  • Sibling preparation classes: check with your hospital to see if they will be offering these classes. Unfortunately, the hospital I will be delivering at currently does not offer these classes in-person, but I do see there are some classes available online.
  • Limit major changes to routine: it is recommended to not make any major changes in the routine of the older sibling in the several months leading up to the baby’s arrival as well as a few months after the baby’s arrival. This includes things such a transitioning to a toddler bed, potty training, weaning from a pacifier, and starting a new daycare. We will be moving to a new home this summer, but we are trying to get that done in early summer, so Thomas has several months to adjust to our new home before the baby arrives.
  • Find ways to invite your child to help: you want to make sure your child feels included, which helps create a bond between siblings. I have been brainstorming some tasks that Thomas can help with, including bringing diapers, bringing items to the baby (such as a pacifier), and turning on the sound machine for baby.
  • Ask visitors to spend one-on-one time with the older sibling: this will help the older sibling feel special and not left out. We plan to have guests visit when we return home and since the weather will still be nice outside, I am hoping many of our family and friends can take Thomas outside to play.

Welcoming a new sibling is a big transition for an older sibling but planning and being intentional with your actions and words as a parent can help make the transition easier for all involved. We are eager for Thomas to bond with his sibling once he or she arrives!

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Rachel Sweeney

I graduated from Iowa State University with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Dietetics and Exercise Science. I enjoy gardening, cooking and baking, food preservation, traveling, being outside, and spending time with my family.

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