If you’re adding to your family, you may feel nervous about your firstborn. Will they love the new baby? Will they feel pushed out or replaced? Will they be jealous of the new arrival?
While it’s impossible to predict how your child will react to a new sibling, you can be sure there will be some big emotions on display. For example, your child may have mixed feelings about the new baby. They may feel excited about having a playmate whilst also feeling worried about having to share you.
Preparation is key to helping your child adjust to their new role as big brother or sister. The more you can do to prepare your child for the transition, the better. And the more realistic your child’s expectations are, the better. For example, if you hype them up for the arrival of someone to play football with, they will be disappointed when a newborn baby turns up with zero goalkeeping skills.
Here are some things you can do to prepare your child for the birth of a new baby:
Read books about babies
There are loads of books to help your child adjust to the idea of a new baby. There are books detailing pregnancy and birth in an age-appropriate way that may help answer any questions your child has.
There are also lots of books designed to prepare children for the arrival of a new baby. These books look in detail at what happens when a new baby arrives and how the older child might help. There are also books covering sibling jealousy and complicated feelings around the birth of a new sibling.
It’s worth investing in a selection of books and adding them to your child’s bedtime reading pile. Not only will the books help prepare your child, but the daily reading will also give them the chance to ask questions and tell you any worries they may have about the new baby.
Spend time with some babies
Your child may not know much about babies, especially if you don’t have any in the family. Start pointing out babies and younger children to your child when you’re out and about. ‘Look at that baby having some of her mama’s milk; she must be hungry.’ ‘Look at that baby sleeping in his pram; we’ll be able to play games and read books when our baby sleeps.’
If you have friends or family members with babies, ask if you can take your child over to visit. Spending time with babies will help prepare your child for the reality of life with a baby.
Talk about when they were a baby
A great way to teach your child about babies is to talk about when they were a baby. This avoids it feeling like you’re always talking about the new baby. If your child is old enough, you could help them make a photo album of your favourite photos from when they were a baby. Talk about what they enjoyed and the things you did together when they were little.
You can use these conversations as opportunities to prepare your child for life with a newborn baby. For example, you could talk about how you had to be quiet when they were asleep or how they would often wake during the night for milk.
Talk about what being an older sibling entails
Being an older sibling is a fantastic job. Your child can pass down their wisdom to the next child. They’ll be teaching them new words, showing them how to behave (not always a good thing) and teaching them essential skills like sharing and empathy.
Be sure to compliment your child on their older sibling skills. For example, if you see them do something caring, tell them you know they’ll make a great older sibling because they are so kind. If they make you laugh, tell them the baby is lucky to have such a funny older sibling. Now is a great time to build your child up and give them the confidence they need to tackle their new role.
Make changes before the baby arrives
Becoming an older sibling is a big transition for your child. Ideally, they should deal with only one big transition at a time, so if there are any other transitions coming up, it’s wise to get them out of the way before the birth. For example, if you need to transition your child to a big kid bed or get them to give up their pacifier, do this long before the new baby comes home.
Sometimes, there may be transitions you cannot control the timings off, such as a school start or a necessary house move. That’s ok, just be patient with your child and remember they are dealing with many big emotions with all these transitions.
Accept all their emotions
One of the most important things you can do to help your child prepare for a new sibling is to accept all of their emotions. For example, they might say they don’t want a baby sibling or aren’t going to share their toys. It’s ok for your child to feel and voice these things. You can respond empathetically while holding space for them to say what’s bothering them. Remember, young children can struggle to explain how they’re feeling, so you’ll need to give them plenty of time.
Make a present for the new baby
Get your child involved in a craft project for the new baby. This is a great way to help your child bond with their sibling-to-be. For example, an older child may like to make a cross-stitch picture for the nursery wall. A younger child could help you make a mobile to go above the cot. They may want to pick out the colours for the baby blanket you knit or design a soft toy for the baby to cuddle. A toddler could paint some pictures to frame for the baby’s bedroom wall. There are lots of ways you can get your child involved in making something for the new baby.
If there are things you need to buy for the baby, you could get your eldest involved in choosing these. For example, they could select a new outfit for the baby to wear when they’re born. Or perhaps they could pick out a new teddy to give their new sibling the first time they meet.
You may be surprised at how big your oldest suddenly seems when a new baby is in the house. They may seem to grow two feet while you’re in the hospital. Try to make the most of your final months before the new baby arrives. Take trips out and spend one-on-one time, so your child’s heart is full before they become a big sister or brother.