Is baby No. 2 on the way and you’re not sure how to prepare your firstborn for siblingdom? The truth is, there is only so much you can control and it is perfectly normal (and expected) for kids to act out in some way once a new baby arrives.
Still, as a former parent educator and life coach, I can tell you there are steps you can take to smooth the transition before and after the arrival of your new family member.
Wait to tell a young child you are pregnant until you are really showing (and after the risk for miscarriage diminishes).
It is often hard for little ones to understand pregnancy, especially if your belly looks the same as it did before. Wait until you are showing and then gently explain that you have a baby in your tummy. Use age-appropriate language, with only as much detail as needed.
Additionally, I highly recommend waiting until your risk for miscarriage lowers. As hard as loss is on us, it is far harder for our little ones to understand and can be scary and even traumatizing for them.
Time major changes to your home and routine carefully.
If your older child is about to start using the potty or sleeping in a big-kid bed, start this well in advance of baby’s arrival (if possible). If they’re going to move into a new room, shift the attention to them becoming a big kid and away from making space for the baby.
Keep other routines or activities (soccer, dance, swimming lessons, etc.) as consistent as possible. Kids need routine to feel safe, secure and grounded.
Spend as much quality time as you can together before (and after) you give birth.
Build memories with your older child and strengthen the bond you share before the new baby arrives. Go to the park, get down on the floor, take silly photos together, get ice cream, go for walks, read together, get manicures, cuddle just a little longer in their bed at night and read that extra story. Build on the foundation you already have with your child; reassure them of your bond, of your love, of their importance to you.
Maintain special time with your older child once baby arrives. Much of your attention will be going to the new baby, so having that special one-on-one time with your older child will be rewarding for both of you.
Involve your older child as you prepare for baby.
Many moms find it helpful to read books to their children on becoming a big brother or sister. You can also talk with them about possible baby names, as it can be a fun and lighthearted way to talk about the baby. It might be useful to show your child photos of when they were a baby and how excited you were when they first came home.
Or, consider a gift “exchange” between the baby and the older child. Talk to your child about being a big brother or sister and how important they will be to their little sibling.
Include your older child in the experience once baby arrives.
Dallas mom of two Jennifer Helms let her son hold the baby before anyone else and stresses that she feels this is extremely important no matter what time of day (or night) the baby is born. Treat baby’s arrival like a birthday party, and celebrate as a family with bubbles and simple decorations—ask the kids to help you pick out a gift for baby. Older kids, even preschoolers, can help out at home by handing you a fresh diaper or fetching a towel during baby’s bathtime. These little gestures of inclusion give siblings a sense of purpose and make them feel loved and important.
Expect your older child to act out as he deals with the transition, especially if he has been an only child for a while, and always meet him with love.
Remember that your child is used to being the only child and that it is natural for them to react in some way. Have empathy for your child and help them to process those new emotions. Never tell your child to not be jealous or angry or frustrated; those are all human and acceptable emotions. Rather, teach them how to experience such emotions in a healthy manner and let them know that you understand them, that you love them and that it is all OK.
Lastly, breathe, sleep when possible, take care of yourself so that you can take better care of your children and remember that you too are human.
This article was originally published in fall 2018.