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How to prepare your child for a new sibling

While the birth of a new child is an amazing thing, it often comes with mixed feelings. This is especially true when you have another child as you can never quite tell how they are going to take having a new addition to the family. 

The big question for most parents, therefore, becomes how to prepare the older kids for a new sibling. Do you wait and surprise them or do you break the news to them early in the pregnancy? When is the right time to do it? Is there a formula to it or one perfect way to do it? 

Well, the truth is, there is no right or wrong way to break the news about your pregnancy to your older children. Depending on their ages, they'll react differently to the prospect of having a new child in the family. This is why this guide has broken down the expected reactions into different age groups. Here is how to handle each age group and how best to make them understand the changing situation.

Toddlers (Ages 1-2 years)

At this age, kids don't really mind having a new brother or sister. They are not old enough to appreciate what it means yet. However, it is still a good idea to let them hear you talk about the new baby. They should feel your excitement. They may not understand why you are excited, but your exuberance towards the subject will rub off on them and they will start to feel excited, too.

The idea here is to get everyone on board about it. It may not happen all at once, and younger kids may need more time to come to terms with what's going on. Sometimes, it's wise to enlist some extra help when doing it yourself proves difficult. For example, your partner, friends, and family can help your kids accept the news in a better way. 

Here are a few things you can do to prepare your toddler for the new arrival: 

  • Get some picture books about newborns. Go through these books with them to make them familiar with words like “sister”, “brother” and other baby-related words.
  • Do something special for your older child when the new baby arrives. This gesture reassures them that they are still part of mummy’s inner circle. Buy them something nice (like new clothes, shoes, or toys), take them somewhere fun, or even allow them to spend some time with someone special like grandma or grandpa.

Preschoolers (2 - 4 years)

By this age, children are still very attached to their parents. They don't yet understand how to share your attention with others. This makes them sensitive to change. They'll likely feel threatened by the idea of a new family member.

Here are some of the ways you can ease them into the idea of being a big brother or big sister.

  • Wait before breaking it to them. Do it when your tummy is showing or when you're just starting to buy baby clothes and nursery furniture. When you eventually decide to tell them, consider using picture books as they can be very helpful. There are also sibling classes that you can enrol your child into. 
  • Be honest about it. Try to explain all the relevant details about the new baby. Tell them that the baby will be cute but babies cry a lot too and will end up taking most of your time. You should also make it clear that it will be a while before they will be able to play with the new baby. While you are doing this, make it a point to reassure your child that you will still love them as much as you do now.
  • Involve your older children in planning for the newborn. Let them make suggestions for items to buy while shopping or in whatever other plans you might have. This will make them feel less jealous. It will make them feel like part of the team. When the baby eventually comes, they will be just as excited and ready for them. 
  • Regressions are common. Their behaviour might regress a little after you break the news to them or when they meet the new baby. This is your child’s way of seeking more of your love and attention. It is a normal and healthy sign. Reinforce your child’s more mature behaviour by praising them when they act more grown-up.
  • Prepare your child for when you will leave for the hospital. Explain that you will have to go to get the new baby and that you will be back before long. Your child will, therefore, be less confused about the situation.
  • Frequently set aside time for your older child. When you are not busy with the little one, spend whole hours with them. You can read, listen to music, play or simply ask them about their day. This will show them that you still love them and want to do things with them despite there being a new baby in the house.
  • Request family and friends to spend time with your older child when they come to visit. When family and friends come to see the new baby, ask them to also spend a little time with your older one. This will help them to feel not left out of the excitement.
  • Have them spend more time with dad. A new baby under your roof is an opportunity for fathers and older children to bond.

School-Aged Children (5 years and above)

This group is usually not as threatened by a new arrival as younger ones are. They might, however, resent all the attention the new baby gets. To prepare them for the changes to come, here are a few things you might want to do: 

  • Explain to your child what is happening. Do this in an age-appropriate language they can understand. Have a dialogue with them to make them understand what having a new baby means and the good and not so good aspects of a newborn.
  • Make your older child part of the preparations. They can help by fixing up the baby’s new room, buying diapers or picking out clothes.
  • If the situation allows, have your older child visit you in the hospital when the baby is born. This makes them feel part of the changing and growing family.
  • Give your older child a role to play in caring for the baby. Make it clear that they can hold the baby but they have to ask you first. Praise them for being loving and gentle towards the baby.
  • Give priority to your older child’s needs or activities. Make an effort to spend time with them to make them feel loved. Always remind them of how special they are to you. 

Final Thoughts

While it is no easy task to prepare a child for a new sibling, these tips will really go a long way in helping you set the groundwork. As long as you do it with love and patience, they will come to appreciate the value of a sibling and will grow to become the best big brother or sister ever. 

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