Your firstborn has had your undivided attention for their entire life – and things are about to change, big-time. How can you make the arrival of a new baby sibling as smooth as possible?
1. Avoid Other Life Changes
I was desperately hoping to have my first daughter potty-trained before my second arrived, and I put us both through an extremely difficult time because of it. She wasn’t ready, and forcing the issue while I was pregnant and hormonal was a terrible idea (and wow, scrubbing floors and stripping sheets while hugely pregnant is no fun). Plus, even if it had worked, it’s very common for kids to regress after the new baby arrives. If you have the flexibility, shelve the potty training until you’re all settled in and can truly focus. Same goes for starting a new school, moving to a new house – even switching brands of cereal can feel major to your little one!
2. Shift Hand-Me-Downs Early
If you are planning to re-use baby items that your eldest is still using, especially a crib, try to shift them out a few months before the baby is born. You want that change to seem like a reward for becoming a big kid, not something that is being taken away from them and given to an interloper. Put the crib in storage for a month or two before pulling it out for the new baby sibling.
3. Watch Your Language
Help your little one feel like this new baby belongs to the whole family, not just you and your partner. Try to avoid saying “my baby” whenever possible, and replace it with “our baby” when your eldest is around. “I can’t wait to meet our new baby!” “What do you think we should name our baby?” Especially do this around other people, so your child can hear you describe them as part of the team that is welcoming this new arrival. The more you can reinforce this relationship, the stronger their bond may be. My four-year-old still introduces her 1-year-old sister to people as “our baby”!
4. “Meet” the Baby Together
Along the same lines, be intentional about arranging the first meeting after baby has arrived. Connect with your child first, then both of you can welcome your baby together. If you gave birth in a hospital, for example, and someone else is bringing in your child the next day, make a plan to go out in the hallway when they arrive. Give hugs and talk for a moment, then hold your child’s hand as you all walk into the room together. This reinforces your existing family unit, welcoming the baby as a whole. If you can’t leave the bed yet, place baby in the bassinet for this first meeting. This way your child isn’t walking into the room to see their parents already holding a “replacement” baby, which can lead the child to feel like an outsider.
5. “To: Big Sister, Love: Baby”
An easy way to score points is for your newborn to give their older sibling a gift in that first meeting. This can offset the many “new baby” gifts your child may have seen given already, and helps them feel positively toward the new baby sibling. Try to choose an item that will keep your child busy while you are feeding and taking care of baby in the first few weeks. A doll is a great choice, so that you both have a new baby to take care of. My oldest made sure to introduce all hospital visitors to her own new baby along with “our” baby, and carefully instructed them on how to gently hold her.
6. Appoint Your Helper
Build your eldest’s identity as a helper. Talk about the ways they can help take care of “their” baby, and reinforce the concept every time they do. “Oh, thank you so much for bringing me that burp cloth, Helper!” “Is there a helper here who could bring the baby his blankie?” Praise your child to other people in their presence: “Oh, Jonathan is such a big helper. He is always taking care of our baby.”
7. Glorify Being a Big Kid
Explicitly point out all the advantages your child has over a tiny baby. “Oh baby, I know you want to eat cereal like your brother, but you’re not big enough yet. Babies can’t have cereal.” Big kids have all kinds of special privileges, and pointing them out reinforces the glory. “Wow, our baby looks sad that she can’t build a tower like you can. Maybe you can teach her someday!”
8. Tell Baby to Wait
Whenever possible, verbally prioritize your oldest. If the baby is fussing while you make your child’s breakfast, say, “I’m sorry, Baby, but your big sister needs me right now. You will have to wait.” Your child is used to hearing this in baby’s favor all day long, and witnessing the reversal will go a long way toward helping balance that scale for them. It won’t make a difference to the baby, but it feels very important to your eldest.
9. Find New Baby Sibling Books & Shows
Someone gifted us the book I Have a Sister by Smiljana Coh, and it was a huge hit! It’s still heavy in our rotation. Perfect dose of “big kid” nostalgia, with language and illustrations that are on point (and yep, there is a brother version). We also benefited greatly from PBS’s Daniel Tiger series and its discussion of Daniel’s baby sister, Margaret. It’s no coincidence that my daughter named her Popple Margaret before the baby arrived! The song, “There’s Time For You, and Baby, Too” is right on target.
10. Have Patience
Most of all, be patient. A new baby sibling can rock a child’s world, and it can take them some time to figure things out. And remember, you’re also rebuilding your own identity as a parent of two, so you have some emotional changes happening yourself (in addition to hormone storms if you have given birth!)
Grant yourself and your child grace whenever possible. You are building a strong sibling relationship for life!
(Bonus Tip: Take Photos!)
Cement this new sibling relationship with some beautiful portraits on your walls, or an album you can page through together with your oldest. If possible, hire a professional photographer who specializes in this age group to maximize chances for success. We have sneaky tricks up our sleeves, even for the least cooperative toddlers! Reach out to hear more about getting great sibling photos.