Preparing for siblinghood: Talking with your children about what to expect when you’re expecting
Preparing for a newborn can feel easier when it is your second or third pregnancy, especially after you have experience with tasks like breastfeeding, changing diapers and caring for a sick child.
However, readying your older children for the arrival of a new baby — even if you have done so before — can be different with each new addition to the family. As children change, mature and develop their personalities, your approach to equipping them for siblinghood should change as well.
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Breaking the news
The first step is letting your children know there is a baby on the way. For some children, this conversation might be simple to initiate and can be had at the beginning of pregnancy. For others, it is okay to hold off on the conversation until they are curious about mommy’s growing belly.
“Children help dictate what’s said and when,” says Dr. Steven Gelman, pediatrician, and director of the outpatient clinic at NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. “However, the information you give to children should be age appropriate. Children do not need to hear more than they can understand.”
For example, if your toddler asks where babies come from, it is fine to say that they come from “inside of mommy” instead of diving into a discussion about the birds and the bees. Sifting through your child’s old baby pictures can also help him grasp what is happening.
Adapt your approach to your children’s needs — you may want to discuss the new baby casually, during normal conversation, or schedule a more purposeful talk or fun announcement.
Depending on your children’s questions, breaking the news may only take an evening, or you may be fielding questions over the course of several weeks or months. Listen to your children’s responses and adjust your approach accordingly to make sure they understand that a baby is joining the family.
Changing more than diapers
When a newborn is brought home, everyone’s roles, routines, and responsibilities are affected. The way you prepare children for these changes can color their attitudes toward becoming older siblings. It’s natural for them to show enthusiasm, resentment, or indifference to these new developments.
Get your child involved with the preparations for her new sibling to shift her energy in a positive direction. Include older children in shopping trips or have them brainstorm baby names to foster excitement about having a younger brother or sister. Your eager anticipation of the baby can easily transfer to your older children.
“Talk about all the positives that come from having a new baby in the family,” Dr. Gelman says. “Make sure that parental concerns like time, space, and money are kept between you and your partner.”
If your children are teenagers or toddlers, they may be indifferent to the arrival of the baby. Do not force them to help prepare for the baby’s arrival if they are not interested. In time, they may become more enthusiastic about being older siblings, especially once the baby arrives.
As the baby’s delivery date approaches, make older children aware that you will be in the hospital for a day or two. Arrange for them to visit you in the hospital to meet their new brother or sister if possible.
Once you bring the baby home, be prepared for a change in behavior from your older ones. Some children may act out while others will be excited to help you look after the new addition.
“Some children get jealous of the attention being paid to the new child and miss being the main focus for their parents,” Dr. Gelman says. “Others thrive on no longer being the center of attention. Still others may have their parental instincts kick in, and they’ll dote on their sibling.”
If your children want to help take care of the baby, assign them simple responsibilities like keeping socks or booties on their sibling’s feet. Discuss and agree on these responsibilities ahead of time.
Since your household will be undergoing major changes during this time, avoid initiating other big adjustments to your children’s routine. For example, avoid starting potty training or preschool around the arrival time of a new baby, since these developments can stress and overwhelm older siblings.
Understand that your older children are experiencing a whirlwind of emotions and may require patience from you while they adjust. Set aside time to spend with them, and make sure your partner and visiting family members do the same. This can help ease this transition and remind your older kids that they are loved.
For more helpful parenting tips, visit nyp.org/pediatrics. To find a pediatrician, call 800-245-KIDS (5437).