How to Prepare your Big Kid For a New Baby

Image via Katie Hurley

My daughter was only twenty-one months old when her brother arrived on the scene and, in all honesty, she doesn't really remember life without him. When we look back at baby pictures pre-brother, she's always genuinely shocked to see a family of three. Sure, there were some trying moments for me during those first six months with two under two. When all voices cry out at once, you have to make choices. Sleep was but a dream. I didn't have much help and was often torn in two directions. The phone went unanswered and I'm fairly certain that I forgot about email for a solid four months at some point.

When the kids are close in age, the adjustment is often more difficult for the parents than it is for the older sibling. When you introduce a new baby to an older sibling, however, it's an entirely different experience.

Older children can have very strong bonds with their parents, and a new attention-seeking baby on the scene can lead to fairly intense feelings of jealousy. I've had parents call me in tears because a seven-year-old seems to “hate” the new baby or a five-year-old deliberately hid a lovey belonging to the new baby.

Little kids have big feelings, and new babies require a lot of attention from mom and dad. Parents tend to be tired, stretched thin, and less patient when stressed, and that can affect the whole family.

It's helpful to prepare your big for the arrival of a new baby long before the baby arrives. While many people suggest creating special jobs for the older sibling to “help” the new baby, try to remember that this also places the focus on the baby. Yes, older siblings should feel involved and responsible, but they need your attention, too.

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Take the element of mystery out of the equation by preparing your child for the arrival of the new baby. It's not just the details of what happens when mom is in the hospital that matter, it's everything that happens when mom comes home.

Use a doll to practice holding the baby. Show your child how a bottle works. Be honest about the fact that babies can be very loud and cry often. Talk about the importance of allowing babies to get enough sleep so that they can grow.

Get that baby bath out and practice bathing a doll together. Do the same with diaper changes and dressing the baby. The more concrete information your big kid has (can you believe babies eat every two hours?), the better prepared he will be once the baby comes home.

{ MORE: Get Your Little One Preschool Ready! }

jealous toddler
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Listen, I mean really listen, to your child when he expresses his feelings about the new baby (both before the baby arrives and once the baby is born). Parents have a tendency to sugarcoat things and brush off negative feelings in an attempt to keep the peace. This is a mistake. Kids are allowed to have negative feelings, and they need to feel comfortable expressing those feelings as they arise. 

{ MORE: Will I Love My Second Baby the Same? }

Acknowledge how your child feels and empathize. Do you remember what it felt like to get a new sibling? I sure do! Even if you didn't have the same experience your child is having, chances are there were times when you felt like something took your mom's attention from you when you were a child. Talk about how that felt and brainstorm ways to feel better.

Image via iStock

Create special time:

I know that babies seem to have endless needs, but your big kid needs you, too. The needs of the older children are based on emotion. They need time, attention, and someone to listen. They need guidance through these family changes. And they need to know that you still have just as much love for them as you did before the baby arrived.

Make sure that you set aside special time with your big kid. Whether it occurs during naptime for the baby or you enlist help and escape the house together isn't important. What matters most is that you have time together free from distraction.

A “special time box” can be a really helpful tool. Fill a box with fun items that would interest your big kid (art supplies, small toys for playing pretend, card games) and keep it tucked away during the day. Bring out the special box only during special time and let your child choose the activity. It's a great way to bond on a budget and give your child the attention he needs during the transition.

{ MORE: What to Know If Your Baby Boy Is Born with an Undescended Testicle }

How did your older children adjust to a new sibling? 

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How to Prepare your Big Kid For a New Baby

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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