When we became pregnant with our second child, we were nervous about how our two-year-old son would react to having a new sibling. Our firstborn is a bit of a handful and is very intent on having everyone’s attention at all times. We were worried that having to share our attention with a new baby would cause him to resent his little sister. We were so wrong! He has been a spectacular big brother from day one. He calls her his “little sweetie pie,” delights in making her smile and laugh, and is very concerned when she is upset. He is constantly telling us how much he loves her and has never been anything but kind and gentle with her. Seeing their little friendship grow has truly been one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. Every child is different and will react differently to the realities of a new baby, but here’s a few things we’ve learned about preparing toddlers for the arrival of a new sibling:
1. Talk it up. Don’t let your toddler be surprised when you waltz home with a new sibling. Start talking about the new baby with your child at least as soon as you tell family and friends about your pregnancy. Your toddler will need several months to process this information about the upcoming changes.
2. Learn together. Read books about pregnancy and newborns and look at pictures of babies in utero to help your toddler visualize and understand what’s happening inside mama’s tummy. One very helpful thing I discovered during my last pregnancy was watching short videos about fetal development with my son using a pregnancy app on my phone. He was fascinated and wanted to see videos showing the development of his baby sister several times a day.
3. Imagine together. Help your toddler start imagining what his/her new sibling will be like and how life will change. Ask, “What color eyes do you think the new baby will have? What color hair? Do you think they’ll have brown eyes like you?”
4. Watch your words. Your toddler is very tuned in to your attitude and conversation about your baby. When you talk about your pregnancy and upcoming birth, be sure to emphasize how exciting, wonderful, and blessed it is to be receiving this gift of new life. If you focus on the inevitable difficulties, inconvenience, and stress of a new baby, your attitude won’t be lost on your toddler.
5. Give your toddler a role. OK, so we can all imagine how much “help” a toddler will be during the early weeks of your new baby’s life. However, it’s crucial to help your child see that rather than getting dethroned as the baby of the family, they are taking on a new, big, and very important role as a older sibling. If your child is dinosaur-obsessed, remind him that the new baby won’t know anything about dinosaurs and will need big brother to teach all he knows. If your child is a burgeoning ballerina, tell her how much fun it will be to teach her steps to the new baby. Explain what sort of things mama and daddy will need help with (fetching toys or diapers for baby), how the toddler will need to look out for the new baby, how special it will be to be a big brother or sister, and how the new baby will want to try to do everything their brother or sister does.
6. Tell them what to expect. Obviously, baby won’t be able to play legos with big brother or sister from day one. But if your toddler is expecting a playmate right off the bat, you’re setting him/her up for disappointment. Be sure to emphasize that when baby is born, “baby won’t know how to talk like you do. They won’t even know how to sit up! They will have to watch you and practice before they can walk and play with you…etc.” And it might be a good idea to mention that sometimes new babies cry, and that big brother or sister will have to be very patient and try to help the baby feel better.
7. Tell stories about your toddler. When you’re explaining about your upcoming birth, be sure to tell your toddler about the night he/she was born. Explain how excited you were to meet your baby. How precious and beautiful he/she looked at the first moment you held your new baby. My son loved hearing about how he didn’t like his first bath. He would ask me whether his baby sister was going to hate her first bath, too. Most toddlers are entranced by their own birth story. Telling them about their birth will remind them that their story is just as special as the new one unfolding.
8. Give them something to look forward to. We tried to build anticipation for the birth of our new baby by explaining to our toddler how he would get to have a slumber party at grandma’s house and watch a Pixar movie he’d been wanting to see. He was so excited about the prospect of the sleepover and movie watching that he would say to my tummy, “It’s time to come out, Lucy! I want to go to my special trip to Ooma’s house!”
9. Give presents from the new baby. When your toddler arrives on the scene (be it hospital, birth center, etc.), have a gift for him to open “from the baby.” Our newborn “gave” our toddler some toy trucks and a special “big brother” t-shirt. To this day he’ll say, “Lucy gave me this truck! Wasn’t that sweet of her?”
10. Give a little extra love. Be sure to spend a little extra time snuggling and encouraging your toddler. A big change is coming and a little extra love can’t hurt! Remind your child how much they are loved by mama and daddy…and how much the new baby will love them, too!
Did your older children have an easy transition to life with a new baby or a difficult one? What helped ease your child into the big changes of sharing the spotlight with a younger sibling?
oooh that was too sweet!! My oldest was 17 months when her little sis was born, so we did a lot of these things but I don’t know how much she really understood. It is one of my biggest joys to watch them interact more as they get older!
Sweet sibling interaction is just the best! I’ll be coming to you for advice if our next child spacing is smaller than the first 🙂
Awesome list! My oldest son was 20 months old when my second was born. One additional thing we did was to get him a doll. We showed him how we hold baby, how baby eats (strange to mime nursing a doll, I know, but that part was particularly fascinating to my toddler, and the bottles that came packaged with the doll weren’t really applicable!) After baby no. 2 came home, my oldest would rock his doll while I rocked the baby, but his doll to sleep in the bassinet, etc. Very sweet. Now they are 1.5 and 3, and the best of friends.
Thanks! I LOVE your idea to give the older child a doll to “practice” with. So brilliant! I am definitely going to steal that idea next time we’re pregnant (God willing!). And perhaps having a dollbaby to “nurse” while mama nurses the newborn would help alleviate the acting out to get mama’s attention whenever she has to stop to breastfeed (not that that EVER happens over here, ahem). I love hearing about sibling besties! L and B are just now starting to be playmates and I can’t wait to watch that blossom.
Well, my baby is only one month old, and his big brother is 21 months now. We did a lot of the things you suggest, though it’s definitely difficult to tell how much he understood… My friend said her boy “nurses” his special stuffed dog after seeing his little sister eating. I think that’s pretty adorable and wouldn’t mind at all if my little boys pretend to nurse.
That IS adorable! I wouldn’t mind either 🙂
I had a similar experience with my son and we prepared him almost exactly the same way! He adores his sister and calls her “sweetie pop.” He is full of personality and loves attention, so we weren’t sure how he would take it, but we talked about her constantly so that she was so much a part of our life before we had her. Still to this day he says “I’m so glad that Willow came out of your belly.” We, too, are seeing the budding of sibling friendship :).
I guess my advice is, don’t underestimate your toddler. I wondered if he truly grasped the things we were telling him, but when his little sister finally came, it was a smooth and natural transition for him.
Sweetie pop! That’s so cute. Great advice, Melissa. I love hearing about other sweet big brothers and beloved little sisters 🙂
My cousin sent me to this post to help prepare my two year old for his first sibling. I can’t say thank you enough! We’ve already shared the news with him, and I can’t wait to start doing some of these other things with him! Great ideas!
Thanks, Ginger! Congratulations on your precious new life 🙂 I’m so excited for your family. Seeing my kids’ love for each other is truly one of the best things in my life! What a gift your new baby will be to your son!