A guide to preparing your child
for a new brother or sister
By Margaret Renkl
Before I gave birth to my second child, I worried a lot about my
first. What if he felt abandoned when I left for the hospital, betrayed
when I brought another child home? But Sam was thrilled to have a
baby of his own to benefit from all of his four years of wisdom. "Always
look both ways before you cross the street, Henry," he would
caution, leaning over the bassinet. "Never try to take a bone
away from a big dog, Henry."
Less than two years later the new baby was a big brother himself,
and I was fretting again. But despite sometimes insisting that I put
the baby down and hold him instead, Henry loved Joe with his whole
2-year-old heart. I would hear him over the monitor comforting Joe
as soon as the baby fussed. "Is all right, Doe," he’d say.
"I right here. I right here."
A new baby is bound to cause a certain amount of chaos in any family,
but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. My husband and I found that
the transition from one child to two, and from two to three, was far
more about delight than fear or brooding resentment. There are ways
to help a child greet the idea of a new sibling – and the reality
– with anticipation, excitement and joy.
No one is ever fully prepared for the cataclysmic changes that a
new baby brings, but here are some things you can do beforehand to
lessen the shock for an older sibling:
Celebrate. Tell your child how lucky the baby will be to have
such a wonderful big brother or big sister. Karenetha Eastwood, a
Frisco, Texas, mother of two, would place her toddler’s hand on her
belly and say, "Look, Kelly, this is your baby kicking. Your
baby can’t wait to meet you."
Demystify the doctor. If Mommy’s heading off to the obstetrician
all the time, a child may worry that something awful is happening
to her. Carola Yeakle, of Boca Raton, Florida, circumvented this fear
by bringing her four-year-old along to several prenatal appointments.
To include the child in the process, her thoughtful ob-gyn made Madeleine
a chart, too, which the nurse filled out every month with Madeleine’s
blood pressure and weight. "It only took about 10 seconds,"
says Yeakle, "but it made Madeleine feel special and involved."
Meet a real baby. Seeing an actual newborn can go a long way
toward clarifying the reality that a baby won’t be an instant playmate.
Two months before my third child was due, I took my two older boys
to visit a friend who’d just given birth to her third child. "Wow,"
Sam kept saying, "I forgot how squinched up babies are!"
Henry just took off the baby’s socks and looked in awe at his tiny
If there’s no newborn handy, consider enrolling your child in a sibling-preparation
course at the hospital where you’ll be delivering. These classes typically
include a tour of the birthing center and nursery. If your hospital
doesn’t offer a program, ask whether you can give your child a tour
- Discuss pragmatic issues early on. Small children are less
interested in the cosmic implications of having a sibling than in
the simple matters, like what babies eat and where they sleep. When
I was pregnant with number two, my husband brought the crib down
from the attic as soon as we realized that Sam was planning for
the baby to sleep on his trundle bed with his Beanie Babies.
- Solicit decorating advice. Involving siblings in fixing
up a nursery – or rearranging a bedroom the two children will share
– gives them a chance to put their own special mark on baby preparations.
It will also help tem establish a clear sense of territorial boundaries.
"This is the baby’s room," they’ll think "and I have
my own room across the hall." Or, in the case of the shared
room, "The crib is for the baby. I have my own big-girl bed
and my own Barney comforter."
A baby doll goes a long way toward teaching a child how to touch
and hold a real infant. Select one that’s approximately the same color
and size as a newborn, with lifelike features. Present it to the sibling
a few months before her "real baby" is due to arrive on
An unborn baby can seem more real if it has a name, so choosing one
during the pregnancy – and using it often – can help jump-start a
new sibling relationship. So can allowing the older child to somehow
participate in the name selection. Not that you want to give him carte
blanche, of course – my first son desperately wanted to name his brother
Luke Skywalker – but many parents recommend letting the older child
at least cast a vote from the list you’re already considering.
Even if you don’t want your child to help choose the baby’s name,
you can still involve him in the process by letting him in on why
you’ve settled on the names you have. Sara and David Baker, of Cincinnati,
told their son David they wanted to pick a name that began with D
(Derek) so the new baby would match his father and brother.
Becoming a big sister or brother is a huge rite of passage, and rites
of passage ought to be celebrated with presents, properly adorned
with lots of ribbons and bows. Sometimes the new baby can "give"
a special gift to their bigger sibling; or the older sibling can choose
a gift for the new baby. Note that some people will bring your older
child a big-sister or big-brother gift when they come to see the new
baby, but many won’t. It’s hard for young kids to see babies being
bombarded with presents, so set aside some small treats – such as
new crayons, a yo-yo, or a puzzle book – for when you need them. Bring
one out after the guest leaves.
To make the adjustment period as stress-free as possible:
- Delegate baby chores to Dad or Grandma. Nursing is the only task
that can’t be handed off to friends or relatives who are itching
to get their hands on that little bundle anyway. Your baby won’t
know who’s tending to him, but your older child will; try to bathe,
read and play with her as much as possible at the start of her life
as a sibling.
- Give the baby away. To your older child, that is. With your help,
let her hold the new baby, kiss the top of his head, tickle his
teensy toes. Tell her that this is her baby. Take lots of pictures
of the newborn with his sibling, and make copies for brothers and
sisters to keep.
- Make your older child feel needed. Kids love to help, and they
won’t have time to feel left out if you make them feel you couldn’t
get along without them. Even a toddler can bring you a burp rag
from the changing table; an older child might do the burping himself
(with you sitting close at hand, of course). Let your big girl or
boy help push the stroller, "babysit" while you answer
the phone, and cheer up a fussy baby by jiggling a toy in front
of her face.
- Emphasize the advantages of age. It may seem to your older child
that newborns get all the breaks – lots of attention with no responsibilities
and no time-outs. Remind him that there are many wonderful treats
that only big kids are allowed to have. Say, "Poor baby. She
can only drink milk. How would you like to join me for an ice cream
cone?" Or, "The baby has to go to bed now, but we’ve got
time to read some stories first."
- Put your first child first. Once in a while, say to the baby (when
your older child can overhear), "I’m sorry, honey, but you’ll
have to wait for your new diaper. I’m making your sister’s sandwich
right now." And until things settle down, let the house go.
Doing a puzzle or singing with your older child or reading to your
toddler is far more important than making the beds. When your baby
is sleeping, grab a little one-on-one time together. As my husband’s
grandmother used to say to me, "Those dust-bunnies will still
be under your sofa long after your babies are grown and gone."
Other useful resources
Drew Bledsoe of the New England Patriots has established
the Drew Bledsoe Foundation Parenting With Dignity
program. Bledsoe says of his success "my
parents helped me the most to be what I am today" and
his goal is to help other parents give their children the
best possible start. For more information, see http://www.drewbledsoe.com/.