You might imagine that your new baby will become instant best friends with their older brother or sister the moment they meet. While you’re having visions of matching outfits, bedtime cuddles and backyard hide-and-seek, it’s important to remember that the sibling bond isn’t always immediate.
Although you can’t predict exactly how your child will react to their new little sister or brother, you can help make their first meeting go as smoothly as possible. Here are some pediatrician-approved tips for introducing a new sibling that actually work.
8 ways to prepare your child for a new sibling
1. Explain what it’ll be like when new baby comes home
Just like talking with your partner about important baby topics, talking to your older child about what life will be like once the baby arrives can help set up the first meeting – and hopefully help with the transition into everyday life. This also gives them an opportunity to ask you questions.
In addition, reading your child books about welcoming a new sibling into the family can be fun and help them understand the complicated changes that happen when adding a new baby to the family – and goes a long way in preparing your child for a new sibling.
To find the best books for introducing a new sibling, check with friends and family members who’ve been through it. Also, if your older child has a favorite author or book series, see if there’s a related story on becoming a big brother or sister.
2. Introduce your older child to their new sibling before baby is born
Even though your children won’t physically meet until the baby is born, your older child can meet their new sibling before then. Encourage your child to talk to your baby bump. They can talk about anything – what’s going on around them, their favorite toys, or the fun things they’ll do together after baby is born. You could even sing or read stories to the baby together.
Let your child feel your baby bump, too – especially when the baby kicks or moves around. Most kids are surprised and delighted to realize the baby is moving around in mom’s belly.
3. Prepare your home ahead of time
Change can be stressful for kids. Even seemingly small changes like switching to a big kid bed or a different bedroom can cause stress or anxiety. If you’re going to change things in your home to make things more comfortable when the baby is home, do it a few months beforehand.
This will give your older child time to get used to the new changes. They can adjust to the new layout of their bedroom or transition out of their crib before baby comes home. That way, it won’t seem like the new baby “took” their crib, room or baby toys.
4. Give a gift for the older sibling when the new baby is born
Everyone wants to feel special. A newborn baby is usually the center of attention, especially when family and friends come to visit. And this can cause jealousy in older siblings.
Giving your older child a small gift or a sweet card that baby “picked out” for them can help them warm up to their new brother or sister. A small stuffed animal, a book or even a loving note about how excited the baby is to meet their sibling is all you need to make your older kiddo feel special.
5. Plan for the baby meeting their sibling for the first time
With everything that goes into preparing for giving birth and bringing the baby home, it might be tempting to “wing it” when it comes to the first meeting between baby and your older child. But planning that first meeting is just as important as preparing the nursery or choosing a pediatrician.
You can’t be sure how your child will react to their baby brother or sister. And they’re likely to have some big feelings that day.
Some parents choose to introduce siblings when the baby is lying in a bassinet or crib, just in case the first sight of mom or dad holding them triggers jealousy. Doctors encourage parents to introduce the two of them by name, just like you would introduce any people meeting for the first time. Let your older child know how happy the baby is to have them as their brother or sister.
After they meet for the first time, plan for your older kiddo to have some one-on-one time with one or both of their parents. Reassure your child that you love them just as much as you did before, and now they have someone else who will love them, too.
Try not to have high expectations for their first interaction. While some kids might be eager to hug or kiss the baby, others might not be as excited. There’s no wrong way for your older child to react after meeting their baby sibling for the first time.
6. Try to keep the first meeting between the new siblings positive
It’s typical to be cautious when introducing your new baby to their sibling. You’ll want to make sure your older child is gentle. You might find yourself holding your breath when you let your big kid hold the baby. Being a little nervous is normal (baby is so little!), but your stress has the potential to rub off on your older child.
So, try to stay positive. Try not to say “stop that” or “don’t do that.” This might make your child feel afraid to interact with the baby or angry that the baby always gets them into trouble. Instead, try saying something like “can you show me how gentle you can be with the baby?”
7. Helping older siblings cope with the new baby: Make your “big kid” feel special
You might be wondering how a new sibling affects a child’s behavior. It’s natural for children, especially toddlers, to feel jealous when another child joins the family. Babies take up a lot of time and attention. If your child feels left out, they might act out with tantrums or other attention-grabbing behavior.
Sibling rivalry with a new baby is very common. But by staying sensitive to your older child’s needs, you may be able to help curb some of the jealousy early on.
Help them adjust by finding small ways to make them feel special. Let them be part of baby prep – maybe let them pick out a few special toys for the baby, help paint the nursery or give suggestions for baby names.
Being involved will help them feel valued and responsible. It can also help stop the new baby from being something only mom and dad are excited about, and turn it into something the family is excited about.
After the baby comes, many families like to have loved ones visit them in the hospital. Some families might invite grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and other extended family members – while others might keep things small with just immediate family.
If your older child feels comfortable visiting the birthing suite, consider putting a picture of them next to the bed. Show them you have their picture on display, so they know you’re thinking of them.
Keep in mind that kids might be uncomfortable seeing you in the hospital. They might think you’re sick. So, if your older child is planning on coming to the hospital, talk to them about what to expect. And let them know that it’s okay if they’d rather wait and see you and the new baby at home.
Once baby arrives, give your child a special job. If they’re the chief bottle handler or mom’s pillow fluffer, it can help give them a sense of importance and keep them from feeling left out.
8. Talk to your kids’ doctor if you have any concerns
If you’re concerned that your child isn’t coping well with a baby at home, it might be time to talk to your children’s doctor.
At HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, our team of kids’ health experts are here to answer any questions you have and give you tips about helping older siblings cope with the new baby.
We’re available 24/7 and just a phone call away. HealthPartners patients can call 800-551-0859. Park Nicollet patients can call their clinic directly during regular business hours, or 952-993-4665 if it’s after hours. For questions and advice on new baby care, you can also call our 24/7 BabyLine at 612-333-2229.
Remember that bonding happens naturally
Welcoming a new baby is a big life change for everyone in your family. With change can come stress, excitement and some growing pains for your other kiddos.
Remember, bonding takes time. There might be some bumps along the way, but your children will develop a strong bond over time. And you’ll also make plenty of beautiful memories as a family.
Remember not to put pressure on yourself or your kids while they’re getting to know each other. Everyone is on their own timeline and bonding will happen at the perfect speed for your kids.
If you have questions or concerns, we’re here to provide answers and guidance as you grow your family. You can always talk to your children’s doctor if you have questions or concerns. Make an appointment for an in-person or video visit.