Preparing your child for a new baby

We have just found out we are going to have another baby. How can we prepare our child for the new arrival?

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Adding a new member to the family is a major life transition for all members. To a young child, it can mean insecurity, as well as excitement. The following guidelines will help you create the optimal atmosphere for helping your child adjust to the role of big brother or sister, before and after your newborn arrives:

  • Communicate the wonder of birth! All children are enamored by the story of their own birth. Do not hesitate to begin your young child's preparation for having a sibling, by recounting the very special day that your child came into your life. But do not stop there. Allow your child to listen to the baby's heartbeat, or even gently "talk" to the baby through the womb. By the last month of pregnancy, the baby can hear the sounds of family members' voices through the waters. Trace the development of the baby, if your child shows interest. Books, such as Sheila Kitzinger's, A Child is Born, teach the fascination of life, appropriate to share with your child at this time.
  • Teach nurturing. Excitement about caring for, and protecting, a new baby can develop from the value you place on nurturing in your family. For example, taking care of a kitten can help a young child practice being gentle and considerate with living things. Caring for plants and holding a friend's baby, if possible before birth can give your child a sense of being competent in their role as big brother or sister. Many hospital maternity programs now have sibling classes to help prepare children for this very exciting event. Consult your local hospital for programs in your community.
  • Read books that tell the story of adjusting to life with a new baby. Children learn through stories and story telling. Pick a few different kinds of stories that encourage a full range of feelings about the arrival of a newborn in the family. Make room for "unpopular" feelings like anger and jealousy, as well as love and kindness. By doing so, you reassure your child that feelings are acceptable and can be expressed, while sending a clear message that aggressive actions (such as hitting) are off-limits.
  • Allow your child to participate in helping prepare for the new baby's arrival. Give your child appropriate tasks to help prepare the nursery or the baby's room. Encourage any special toys your child wants to put in the baby's room to welcome him or her home.
  • Allow regression. Do not be surprised if your preschooler or toddler wants to "play baby," too! Indulge him by cuddling, rocking and cooing as you would to a baby. This kind of play helps your child work through this transition, whether before or after the baby comes. Temporarily returning to a bottle or even a diaper is a possibility. If this occurs, do not shame your child. Adopt a patient attitude which reflects their temporary wish to return to being a baby, but be sure to point out the advantages to being an older sibling, too, such as eating ice cream. Continue to support your child's excitement in his or her own growth and the things she can do now that a newborn cannot.
  • Keep change to a minimum. Any changes that will be necessary, such as daycare, a new bed or bedroom or other alterations to make room for a newborn, should be staggered either before or some time after the baby's arrival. Your child will be less likely to associate their new bed, room or schedule with displacement if changes do not occur simultaneously.
  • Create special time with Dad and Mom. Your child may be used to getting attention from both parents when they are in the environment. Spend some time before the baby's arrival doing one-on-one activities. A walk around the block with Dad, while Mom cooks dinner, or alternating bedtime stories with one parent can help a child prepare for sharing attention with a new baby.
  • Gifts for your child after the birth. Young children can develop jealousy when they see sparkling gift wrapped packages arrive for baby, but not for them. Young children fare better when relatives or friends celebrate their new role in the family with a special gift, too.

There is one final thing you can do. Visit friends who have recently added another sibling to their family. Seeing other children going through a similar experience will help your child adapt, rather than resist this transition.

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