Congratulations, your family is growing! Each new child brings joy and excitement to your life, but preparing your child for a new sibling can be challenging. You want your first-born to continue to feel special, unique and important, while also welcoming a new baby into the family. It’s essential to recognize what this transition means for you, your child, and your family, and to offer parental guidance to your first-born to help ease the transition into the new role of being an older sibling.
How you’ll approach preparing your first-born for a new sibling depends on such factors as the age and gender of your first child, and the reasons why your family is changing – such as pregnancy, adoption, step child or foster child – among other factors.
Use these tips as a guide, adjusting them to meet your particular circumstances:
1. Listen, and then Share Feelings
How does your first-born child feel about having a future sibling? How are you feeling? Focus on age-appropriate, open conversation. When possible, listen first and then share. Don’t rely on direct discussion. Encourage all kinds of self-expression, such as:
- Speak hypothetically about other children who have siblings, and then ask your child what he or she thinks about the concept of having a brother or sister.
- Create art together, which can illuminate your child’s internal ideas and opinions.
- Be aware of non-verbal or indirect cues from your child, such as changes in behavior and habits, which can be positive or can reveal confusion or fear.
Help your child with expression. Allow opportunities for questions, ideas and emotions, and make it clear that it’s OK to have mixed or evolving emotions.
Not sure how to start the conversation? Download this interactive activity to help your first-born son or daughter express feelings about the new addition to your family.
Help your child understand what will happen when the new child arrives. What will change? What will stay the same? Most children rely on consistency and continuity for their sense of stability, so increase your child’s comfort level by creating predictability.
For example, develop a story or scenario of the kinds of things that will happen when the baby arrives, and frame it in a context that your child can understand:
- Compare it to other changes your family has undergone and to how those changes have been fun, exciting and rewarding. As examples to underscore your points, use a television show, favorite book, group of friends, or group of cousins who have siblings.
- Talk with your child about what he or she did as a baby, and look at pictures together or read aloud from his or her baby book, to better illustrate for your child what happens when new babies arrive and how they progress and grow over time.
- Develop ideas for how the new sibling will fit into existing family traditions.
- Explain what will still be special or unique about your child and what kinds of family time and one-on-one time you’ll spend together after the new sibling arrives.
- Discuss ways that your child can help the new sibling to adapt and feel at home.
Remember to emphasize that your family’s love for a new baby doesn’t replace the love you each have for your first-born child.
Children love to help and to play “grown-up,” so build family and team spirit in preparing for the new sibling. Ask your child what kinds of things he or she thinks would be helpful to prepare for the new sibling. Don’t be discouraged if at times your child doesn’t want to help; by allowing him or her freedom to decline tasks, you can avoid making the new sibling seem like a “burden.”
If you focus on family spirit over “chores,” you can help create a positive atmosphere around planning and preparing for a new sibling. Develop a list of activities you can do as a family, such as:
- Setting up baby’s crib area or room
- Selecting clothes, books or toys
- Buying and organizing baby supplies
- Making or buying special mementos or keepsakes, such as holiday ornaments, baby’s first footprint, matching “big sibling” / “little sibling” clothes.
4. Keep Sight of the Present as Well as the Future
Planning and preparing for a new baby can be great fun for your first-born child, but your family has several members and the new sibling will be only one of them. Don’t lose sight of how important your existing family members are. For example:
- Arrange family activities that don’t involve preparing for a new baby.
- Preserve memories by creating a scrapbook with your child of things that he or she likes or of activities that your family has enjoyed together.
Ultimately, the more openly you discuss the upcoming family addition with your first-born, the more comfortable he or she will feel about the change.