The arrival of a new baby can bring about momentous change to a family.
But with a little planning and preparation, parents can get their kids ready for the changes that come with a new baby — both before and after she’s born. Dr. Maria Komer, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics, North Canton, offers tips for kids of all ages to help parents lay the groundwork for acceptance of the new sibling in their growing families.
“Children of various ages react differently to a new baby,” she said. “Keeping routines as similar as possible helps children of all ages adapt to your new family dynamic with familiar rules and expectations.”
It’s difficult for toddlers to understand why a change is happening, so they will look to their parents on how to interpret their emotions. Talking with excitement about their new role as a sibling is an important way to ease the transition.
To help prepare your toddler, you can:
- Talk about the changes your toddler can expect, such as your growing belly, hearing baby’s cries and frequent diaper changes. Show your child where the baby is going to eat and sleep.
- Practice quiet activities you can do together while the baby is sleeping.
- Use books and toys to familiarize your toddler with terms, such as “baby,” “big brother” or “big sister.” Also, show your toddler how she can practice taking care of her own “baby” using a doll.
Preschoolers may struggle with the idea of sharing their parents. Having a gift for your preschooler from the new baby and having her choose a gift for the baby can promote excitement regarding her new sibling.
Other ways you can help prepare your preschooler include:
- Telling your preschooler what to expect, such as your hospital stay and where she’ll stay, and who may visit to help care for the baby. You also can show your preschooler her own baby pictures.
- Role playing with your preschooler’s baby doll. She can practice taking care of her own “baby” and being gentle.
- Involving your preschooler in the preparations. She can help pick out baby clothes and nursery items. If you’re planning to use your preschooler’s old baby items, let her play with them again before you give it to the new baby.
- Completing transitions, such as toilet training or moving to a big kid bed, prior to baby’s arrival. If that’s not possible, delay those transitions until after your family has established a routine to prevent multiple changes at once.
School-aged children may adapt more easily to a new baby, but they still need your undivided attention.
To help prepare your school-aged children, you can:
- Explain how your family routines may change, such as the abundant time you’ll need to care for the baby and the benefits of bonding with their new sibling.
- Involve your child in the preparations, such as organizing the nursery or packing your hospital bag. Also, include her in her own roles in caring for the baby, such as getting diapers or picking out clothes.
- Bring your child with you to prenatal appointments, if possible, so she can hear the baby’s heartbeat. Also, allow your child to visit at the hospital right after the birth of her sibling so she can feel a part of your growing family.
- Once the baby is born, encourage your older child to talk about her feelings regarding the changes. Together, you can work out any challenges your child may be facing.
For children of all ages, carving out one-on-one time with your children and praising positive behavior are important. Setting aside time each day to give the baby’s siblings your undivided attention can help ease any resentment or anger about the new baby and prevent regression in younger kids.
A good time to bond with your other children is when the baby is eating or sleeping. While feeding your newborn, invite your toddler to read a book or cuddle with you, or ask your preschooler to sit with you and color or play with a toy. Feeding also can be a time to sit with an older child and catch up on her day or check in on her feelings.
“It’s common to feel guilty when dividing time between children,” said Dr. Komer. “Give yourself some grace and remember, the benefits your children are getting by bonding with siblings, learning skills of responsibility and sharing ultimately strengthen the whole family bond.”