A new baby completely changes the dynamic of a family. If there are already children in the family, that can mean a promotion from only child to big brother or sister, and managing feelings around that is at least as important as investing in a double stroller or buying a new crib. After all, toddlers and children are known for being calm, rational, and open to change! Read on for 10 strategies to consider when introducing a new baby to older siblings.
- As soon as you feel comfortable discussing it, tell the big sibling about their new little sibling. More time to prepare will allow the big sibling to start feeling comfortable with the idea.
- Introduce books that talk about new babies in a family. There are endless options, including The New Baby by Mercer Mayer; Hello In There by Jo Witek; and Just Right Family: An Adoption Story by Silvia Lopez
- If the new baby is joining the family through birth, talk early about limitations in simple language. For example, mommy can’t pick you up right now, but I’d love to sit on the floor and roll trucks with you.
- Talk about who will be staying with the big sibling while baby is being born and tell them the fun things they can do. For example, grandma and grandpa will be staying here with you, you can order pizza with them! Or, you’re going to be having a sleepover at your friend’s house, what toy do you want to bring over to show them?
- Consider getting big sibling a doll. Show the child on the doll how the baby will get their diaper changed, and safe ways to play with the baby. After the baby comes, the big sibling can mimic baby care with the doll, pretending to feed, burp, and change the doll. Pretend play is an excellent way for small kids to process feelings and giving them the tools to do this can really help them.
- Never blame the baby. Meaning, if big sibling wants to play but the baby needs to eat, don’t say, I can’t play with you, I need to feed the baby. Instead, consider, I’d love to play with you! I need 15 minutes, and then we can play. Related, consider having a special basket of toys for big sibling that only come out when feeding the baby.
- When sending pictures from the hospital, consider showing baby sleeping in the bassinet rather than in a parent’s arms. This is a lot of turmoil for a big sibling, and seeing their parent holding the new baby might make big sibling feel replaced. Seeing baby by themselves will help big sibling connect to them as an individual.
- Give big sibling ways to help. Even young toddlers can fetch a diaper while in the same room, and asking for help lets the big sibling feel included. Little kids often love to help, and channeling that is a great way for them to feel connected.
- Tell baby they need to wait while you’re paying attention to big sibling. For example, I’ll be there in five minutes, baby, but right now I’m talking to big sibling. Baby could be sound asleep in their crib, but what a toddler hears is sometimes baby has to wait too.
- Consider getting big sibling a gift from baby. A special stuffed animal, or something new for their bedroom like a big kid chair or piece of art.
Every kid is different, and every kid will handle becoming a big sibling in a different way. There’s not a one size fits all solution for every family. It’s a huge time of transition for the whole family, but with some planning and care you’ll hopefully be building your kids a foundation for the relationship they’ll have their whole lives.