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How to Prepare Your Child for a New Sibling

Preparing your child for the arrival of a new baby can bring many changes to a family. Parents spend a lot of time preparing for the baby, and after the baby arrives, much of their attention is focused on meeting the newborn's needs. All this change can be hard for older siblings to handle. It's common for them to feel jealous and even act out.

But parents can prepare kids for an addition to the family. Discussing the pregnancy in terms that make sense to kids, making some arrangements, and including kids in the care of the newborn can make things easier for everyone.

During my pregnancy, to prepare my 2-year-old daughter for her baby brother, I read books about becoming a new big sister. She loved reading her “big sister” books. She looked forward to her brother’s arrival because she wanted to help “teach” him all kinds of things.

Babies cry a lot at first, so it’s a good idea to prepare your child for that. We explained to our daughter that babies cry sometimes because that’s the only way they can tell us what they need. After our son was born, our daughter was nervous every time he cried. The first time she heard him cry was at the hospital when the nurse was giving him a bath. My daughter said to the nurse, “Maybe he doesn’t like you.” It was pretty funny.

Throughout most of my pregnancy, my daughter insisted that I was having a girl, not a boy. She kept saying it was her baby sister. I was worried she’d be disappointed when she met him, so my husband and I bought her a special baby doll. We gave it to her at the hospital when she met her brother. We introduced the doll as her baby sister. We told her that mommy and daddy needed her help taking care of her. We bought her all the baby doll essentials, a diaper bag, burp cloths, diapers, wipes, clothes, crib, etc. When I changed baby brother, she changed baby sister. She mimicked everything I did for a while. I always told her what a good mommy she was. We had fun with it.

You also might consider visiting friends or relatives with babies. If your child is not used to being around babies or seeing you hold another child, he/she may have some strong reactions at first. It's great to spend time with other families so your child can get used to the idea that even if you hold other babies, you still love him/her just the same. Being around other babies will also give your child a chance to see what babies like and learn how to interact with them.

Also, when preparing for a new sibling, get any big changes out of the way well in advance of the birth, such as room changes, weaning and toilet training. Your child needs time to make these new routines into habits without associating them with the baby.

There’s not a right time or perfect way to tell your child about an impending sibling, just do whatever you can to prepare your child for what’s coming. The more prepared your child is the better chance you’ll have of facilitating sibling bonding rather than sibling rivalry.

Written by Kristy, mom to toddler and newborn hoping for sibling bonding.

January 2012