Preparing Your Family for a New Arrival: Tips for Adding a Sibling
I once heard of an epic baby shower, where the host ‘prepared’ the parents-to-be by challenging them to navigate a wild obstacle course of everything they can expect with life after a child. From explosive diaper changes to spit-up filled shirts, nothing was spared for them. The most fitting obstacle was the path laid with small Legos, and the kicker? The parents-to-be had to make it to the end of the path in bare feet. I believe this was good preparation for what you can anticipate from your first year as a new parent. As a new parent, you might be tempted to stock up on all the latest gadgets and gizmos, from electric swings to high-tech baby monitors. But let’s be clear, nothing can truly prepare you for the first year of parenthood. It is like stepping onto a rollercoaster blindfolded, because you are never sure what’s coming next.
Here is the good news: you’ll also experience some of the most heartwarming moments of your life. From your baby’s first smile, to their tiny fingers grasping yours, to their first words, the joys of parenthood are truly unmatched. When I was preparing for my first child, I wished someone had forced me to walk the path of Legos, so I promised myself when the second, third, and fourth children came around that we would be much more prepared, mentally. But alas, it wasn’t until my second baby that we learned the best advice from our pediatrician: focus on the older sibling, the baby will be fine. Give them all the love and attention you can and this transition will be ok.
Welcoming a new addition to your family is exciting, but it can also be a big adjustment for the whole household. If you’re preparing to add a new sibling to your family, it’s important to plan ahead and take steps to make the transition as smooth as possible. Here are some tips on preparing your family for the arrival of a new baby:
Involve the older siblings
Even before the baby arrives, it is important to start talking to your children about the new arrival. This can mean being involved in telling extended family and friends that you are expecting another baby, or decorating the nursery. It is important to talk with your other children about what to expect when the baby arrives and answer any questions they might have. For younger children, you can practice what being a big sibling looks like with a doll and model the behavior you hope to see from them during playtime.
There are a lot of books geared towards the transition of introducing a new sibling to your family. Reading books about a new sibling can be an engaging way to discuss the topic with older children and prepare for the arrival of a new baby. There are several books geared to different ages or family types that depict a positive, realistic portrayal of life with a new sibling. Books are a great resource to help your child work through deep feelings and offer a quiet time to have a conversation with them. Also, the repetition of the positive ideas early on can help feelings of preparedness and comfort sink in. Here is a list of award-winning books that will provide you with tools for adjusting to life with a new baby.
- I’m a Big Sister and I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole. These books are designed to help prepare older siblings and provide simple, child-friendly explanations of what they can look forward to.
- Hello Baby! by Lizzy Rockwell. Rockwell’s book shows children what it is like to have a new baby around the house. The realistic illustrations are a great visual for older siblings.
- A Baby Sister for Frances by Russell Hoban. This book addresses feelings of jealousy towards a new baby because of the amount of attention she gets. It is relatable and helps children who might be struggling with big emotions.
- The New Baby by Mercer Mayer. A classic book that tells the story of a sibling excited to meet his new sibling but also experiences moments of jealousy and feelings of being left out. It is a reassuring story for children who are adjusting to a new family dynamic.
- I Used to be Famous by Becky Cattie. An light-hearted and adorable take on how to share the spotlight and the benefits of having a sibling.
Have Honest Conversations
Be honest about the changes that will happen. Talk about ways their routines will change and try implementing those changes before the baby arrives, almost like a test run. If you imagine that dad might help more with bedtime for the older siblings, you can start to make that transition before the baby arrives. Speaking with children about clear steps and adjustments after the baby arrives will help them feel more prepared and less anxious.
Making expected changes in your daily routine prior to the baby arriving will give you time to work out any resentment, offer more attention to them while you have the time, and make any necessary adjustments that can help with the transition.
Prepare the Nursery
Setting up the baby’s space early can help older children visualize the change, but also be a part of it. This can give them time to get used to a new baby in the house. Let them help you decorate, pick out baby clothes, and organize the space. Go in there in the mornings when you will normally be waking the baby and quietly at night time with the older sibling to get used to the rhythms. The older siblings can pick out a special toy for the baby and can help them feel more connected to the arrival of a sibling.
Manage Big Feelings
Feelings of jealousy or anxiety are normal for older siblings. It is important to be proactive and help them through these big feelings kindly. Acknowledge and validate your first child’s feelings, and encourage them to express their concerns to you. If you provide them with a safe space to talk about their feelings, you can continue to help nourish their new role as an older sibling and build a good foundation for the years to come.
Set Aside One-on-One Time
Set aside special bonding time with your older children to make them feel special. Important alone time with your older child(ren) will reassure them that their needs are still a priority. This transition is hard and providing them with special time, with each parent, can ease the transition by providing opportunities to bond. If an older child feels neglected, they are more likely to act out to get your attention. Spending one-on-one time reduces the chances of this happening. Most importantly, these special moments create memories for both of you that can strengthen your family bond overall. Some examples of simple one-on-one time are walks around the block, bonding time at the playground, or having snack time at the table with just the two of you.
This is a big day for your children and introducing them in a calm, quiet, relaxed setting can help regulate emotions and give more positive feelings about the meeting. Having the baby in a bassinet, crib, or car seat is better, so that the parents are hands-free and can hug the older sibling(s) at this critical moment so they feel included, instead of the baby creating a new barrier between them and mom. Encourage your child to sing to the baby, take a photo with the baby, and stroke the baby’s tummy. When it is time to take the baby out to feed, change, or cuddle, it is a good time to ask the oldest child to be involved. Have them help with getting diapers, or help with wrapping the baby in a blanket.
As you prepare for the arrival of a new baby, it’s important to consider how the birth order of your children may impact their future relationships. While sibling dynamics can be complex, taking proactive steps to support your children’s relationships can help lay a strong foundation for positive interactions in the future. By following the steps outlined in this article - from preparing your older child for the new arrival to spending one-on-one time with each child - you can help your children navigate the change and build strong bonds with each other. Remember, a little effort in the beginning can go a long way in promoting a positive and loving sibling relationship that can last a lifetime.