The best ways to prepare siblings for the arrival of a new baby will depend on their age, their personality, and other family factors, but these five ideas can be adapted easily!
1. Give them a job.
Engaging children in the arrival of a new baby is a strong foundation for creating a positive relationship between the siblings. Having a special role in caring for the baby provides siblings with a sense of importance and also a sense of control amidst many changes. For young children these can be little jobs, “When the baby comes you can be the one who helps give mama the diapers and wipes.” or “A good job for big brothers is to read books to their new baby; do you think you can help us with this?” Make sure to follow through with these jobs after the arrival. For older children–think school age and up–giving them choices or ideas of ways they can help, “It would be so helpful if you’d be able to help take the baby for walks, or help with laundry loads, or rocking her when she’s fussy.” Often older children–especially if this is the first new baby that they remember arriving–might not know ways they can help on their own and will need some guidance.
2. Talk about how things will change.
With new babies come lots of changes–some easily discerned as positive and some that might be seen as more challenging. Discuss with your children how things will initially change around your home when the bundle of joy arrives. For younger children explanations will be simpler and for older children more detailed. “When this little baby comes home, she’s going to sleep in mom and dad’s room. You might hear her crying.” or “Mama will sit in this rocking chair and feed the baby a lot of times during the day. This will be a time for you to sit and read books next to mama.” More detailed explanations might look like, “Grandma is going to come stay with us for a week when the baby is born; she’ll help get you ready for school in the morning if mom is feeding the baby.” or “Dad is still going to be at work as usual, but Mom is taking off for a couple months; this means I’ll be home when you get out of school.” A lot of repetition and reinforcement of changes will help children grasp these ideas. This also helps open the door for discussions with older children about their feelings regarding a new baby.
3. Talk about how things will stay the same.
A lot of things will change when a new baby arrives, but a lot of things will also stay the same. Kids thrive on routine and consistency, as well as having feelings of control during periods of adjustment. Try to keep routines as normal as possible, even if this means enlisting the help of your support network. Share your visions of things that will stay normal in your family life with your children. “Even after the new baby is born, you will still sleep in your big girl bed and mama and papa will sing your bedtime songs with you every night.” or “Dad will still make your special food for dinner, and mom and dad will eat dinner with you just like we always do.” or “You’ll still go to school each day and dad will pick you up on his way home. We’ll still do family adventures on the weekends together.”
4. Spend one on one time before and after.
Having multiple children means splitting your attention and time. This can be a hard adjustment for older siblings, especially during the initial arrival of a baby. Before the baby is born set time daily or weekly for one on one attention for your older child. This could look as simple as reading books in a special fort or more involved such as taking your child out for breakfast on Saturday mornings. Plan this time so that it’s something you can still do after the baby is born to connect individually with your older child. Enlisting help from family and friends in creating special time for your older child is helpful, too, although it won’t replace time with you. A special outing with beloved aunts and uncles or extra playdates with friends can help siblings from focusing too much on the time that mom and dad are devoting to the new baby. Family members would also love to snuggle a brand-new peanut while you take extra moments with your other child(ren).
5. Help your child create a welcome gift for the baby.
Children of all ages enjoy creating things and this can be a fun way to engage their excitement for a new baby. Identify your child’s interests and help them with a project to celebrate their new brother or sister. Younger children might make drawings, paintings, or items out of clay; these could be hung on the walls of the babies room–framed or not, made into a mobile, or turned into a photobook. Older children might like to make something that is more in line with their interests: a special Lego structure for the bookshelf, learning to crochet a baby blanket, writing a poem to frame on the wall. So many creative ways to welcome a baby!
Through it all remember that there will be easier moments and harder moments as older siblings adjust to a new baby. The same will likely hold true for your adjustment, too! The more intentional preparation your family engages in, the more easily everyone will cope through this exciting and joyful change.