July 17, 2014

How to prepare your child for a new baby

3 minutes
Advice for host families

I’m about to have my second child, so this question has been on my mind a lot over the past several months.  To prepare ourselves and our 3-year-old for this exciting but potentially disruptive new addition to our family, I gathered some great tips from other parents who have already had experience welcoming a new baby, and preparing older siblings for the new addition to the family.  If you are facing a similar transition, hopefully this will be a useful reference guide. If you’ve already been there and done that, then please share your best tips in the comments below.

Give your child time to adjust to the news
Children have different levels of understanding depending on their age. Abstract concepts and events that will seemingly happen in the distant future will be hard for younger children to grasp. It may help to give your older child plenty of time to adjust to the news that a new baby will be joining the family, so talking about the new baby early and often can help. Make sure your tone is positive and comforting, and be sure to talk about what his or her role will be as the older sibling.

Give your older child some experience with other babies
Before your own baby arrives, try to expose your older child to other babies. Reading books about new babies, visiting friends who have babies and even signing up for an older sibling preparation class can be helpful ways to give your child a chance to understand what it will be like to have a baby in the house.

Get your child involved
Before the baby comes, discuss ways your older child can be involved with the care of the new baby.  Depending on his or her age, the older sibling can help by preparing the nursery, picking out a special gift for the new baby, or just talking to the new baby in mommy’s tummy. You can also talk about ways to help when the baby arrives, such as bringing the baby a blanket or pacifier, or helping to change diapers, feeding the baby a bottle, patting the baby’s back or entertaining the baby by singing or dancing.

Set aside special one-on-one time to make your older child feel special
Try to arrange to have some extra help on hand so that you can devote some quality time to your older child. If you have family nearby, schedule time for them to visit and specifically ask that they take care of the new baby while you play with your older child. If you have an au pair, you can set aside some time on a daily basis or take advantage of nap times to focus on your older child. While au pairs cannot be left alone with infants under 3 months old, they can watch the baby while you are in the house, and can also help with other household tasks related to the children so that you can spend more time playing with your older child.

Be realistic 
A new baby will be a big adjustment for the older sibling, so expect that there will be good days and not-so-good days. Some children ignore their younger siblings in the beginning, while others will display some aggression. Reinforce good behavior with praise, and be very clear that harming the baby is not allowed and recognize that this behavior is the older child expressing frustration or wanting more attention.

And one for you: Be prepared
Try to plan in advance as much as possible to make the transition smooth. Talk to your spouse about how you want to introduce the new baby to your older child. For example, you may want to have your older child come to the hospital when someone else can hold the baby so that you can first hug and cuddle the older child. You may also want to have a small gift or a baby doll to give your older child in celebration of the new baby’s arrival. Once you are home, you may want to have a few small treats on hand in case visitors bring presents for the baby, but not the older child.
Think about your childcare needs in advance as well. If you already have an au pair or nanny, plan ahead to try to maintain your older child’s routine, so that he or she feels the security of a predictable schedule. You should also be sure to discuss your expectations of your nanny or au pair if you usually work outside the home and will be home on leave for a while after the baby arrives.