Adding a new member to your family is an exciting time. It’s thrilling to see your family grow — and feel your love grow as well. But as a new sibling joins the family, there can be many questions, concerns, and anxiety for the older kid(s). It can be difficult for a little one to wrap their mind around how the family will change, how their role might evolve, and how a new sibling will affect the level of attention they will receive.
As a parent, you know that there is plenty of love to go around, but to a child, this can cause anxiety. Kids think differently than adults, and this process can feel overwhelming for them. Stay attuned to their needs and behavior, and address any concerns that arise as quickly and openly as possible.
Here are seven tips to consider when preparing your child for a new sibling.
Be Honest and Open
When you’re going to be welcoming a new child, it’s important to bring the other sibling(s) into that excitement. If they have questions, be open. There may be questions about where the baby came from — doesn’t it feel too early for THAT talk?! — so use language that is suitable for their age and level of development. You can lay a foundation for more detailed discussions in the future, but keep it simple for now.
If they are having trouble grasping why you might want another child, be sure to emphasize that this is an addition to your family, not a replacement or another try for the perfect child. You love them so much you wanted to give them a brother or sister to play, grow, and bond with. This is a great time to discuss the need for, and importance of, family throughout one’s life.
Let The Sibling To-Be Get Involved
When it’s time to start making doctor’s appointments, furnishing a nursery, or planning the various celebrations that go with a new family member, let your child play a role. Be sure to invite them to be part of the process; if they choose not to, that’s okay — just keep offering. Make sure they feel welcome and needed, but don’t pressure participation.
You can also work with your child to make some big decisions. Looking for a theme for the nursery? Help with the gender reveal? Naming got you down? Ask your little(s) for advice — you obviously don’t have to take that advice, no one actually wants their child to be named Batman — but let them get in on it and give them ownership if you can.
Position the Sibling as a Teacher
One of the biggest concerns for older siblings is being replaced. Speak to them early about the needs of a new baby. A new baby needs extra time with mommy, can be noisy at night, should be treated gently, and will need lots of naps and bottles, etc. Bringing all of that up early will help your child understand the expectations that come with a new baby, and that it’s all normal.
With all of those expectations, there is a role for the big kids. It can be as simple as showing the baby how to enjoy tummy time and holding or reading to the baby. It’s also a time for the older kids to learn new skills and teach them to their siblings. Learning to share can be a struggle, but if you make it a teaching lesson for the big kids, they’ll be more apt to demonstrate that to the little ones. Kids need reassurance and help to discover and define their new role; you can help provide them with the opportunity to do that.
Make The Transition Fun
As your new baby gets closer to arrival, talk to your child(ren) about the baby being excited to meet them. Many families will bring a toy to the hospital for the baby to give their new big sibling. Make the meeting of the siblings a big deal; consider having a special time for the big kids to meet the new one. When first meeting their brother or sister at the hospital, it can be helpful to let someone other than Mom hold the baby so that the older sibling doesn’t feel replaced.
If you plan to breastfeed, make a little playbox of new or rotating toys for your older ones to dig into during feeding time. If they have a favorite TV show or want some screen time, go for it. Whatever makes it easier for you and gentler for your family.
Be Gentle on Yourself
A big concern for growing families can be guilt around adding a new sibling. Taking away some of the older kid(s) time or attention. It’s often hard for a parent to imagine loving a second, third, fourth child as much as that first. Some parents are afraid that they’ll not be able to love, care for, or parent another child; these are natural concerns. Ultimately, if you need help, ask for it. If you think the older kids are not getting out enough or just need special attention, bring in a family member, a trusted friend, or join a playgroup for the older kids. You can proactively meet the needs of the older kids while integrating your new little one.
It’s Normal If You Say It Is
If you’ve chosen to have your new addition join your family in a “nontraditional way,” such as via surrogacy, egg donation, IVF, or adoption, simply be open and tell your child as much as you feel comfortable and appropriate. Generally, things are easier for a child to accept when they’re younger and circumstances are spoken about honestly. Holding back information can lead to a painful revelation later on.
Seek Out The Experts
Every family is different and has different concerns, needs, and dynamics that need to be addressed. There are a million ways to go about adding a sibling and talking about this change. If you have specific concerns about a particular aspect, seek out experts in that field. Many have found that family therapy has helped them to prepare and bond with a new child. Some rely on books to read to their children or even children’s programs that address relevant issues. Some families include siblings on babymoons. You do what feels right to your family; you get to make the rules!
Be open, be honest, and be loving. After all, isn’t that why you’re adding to your family? Get ready to love your new little one like crazy, and savor all the joys of your growing family!