How To Prepare Your Child For a New Baby
Help your kid adjust to the new family member!
Whether you’ve been diligently planning your growing family’s headcount, or are pleasantly surprised with a new bundle of joy on the horizon, adding a new baby into the mix can be both a blessing and a challenge. You may be excited and feel you have the basics of baby-rearing down pat, but also be concerned how your older child may react, as well as how you can be sure to meet everyone’s needs.
Preparing for baby is no small task, especially when you have another child at home. It quite literally is a life-changing event for everyone involved. And sibling jealousy, or in this case, newborn jealousy, can be a very real thing. That’s why so many parents in just such a situation ask a common question: How can I help my older child adjust to a new baby?
Fortunately, there are many ways you can help prepare your first child for their newborn sibling. Keep reading to learn how to smooth the transition, as well as what you can do if newborn jealousy does arise.
What Is The Best Age Gap Between The First and Second Child?
First off, when you’re having a baby for the second time, you may be wondering what the ideal span of months or years should be between your children. While it’s ultimately a matter of preference (and nature), there are some risks to having them too close or far apart.
Becoming pregnant within six months of giving birth, for instance, can be potentially dangerous for both you and your new baby. Pregnancy and breastfeeding take a toll on your body, as they deplete the levels of nutrients in your body. This can negatively affect both you and your newborn’s health. You may be more likely to have anemia and inflammation. And your infant is at a higher risk of premature birth, low birth weight, and certain congenital and psychological disorders. So, give your body time to recover in between your babes.
On the flip side, waiting too long in between pregnancies can place you at a higher risk for issues such as preeclampsia, a condition which causes high blood pressure that damages your organs, specifically your kidneys and liver. A gap of five years or more can also put your new infant at risk of premature birth and low birth weight. Then there’s the social aspect: If there are more than a couple of years between your children, their age difference may be too wide for them to have similar interests around the same time. They may not form a close bond until they’re older, when a few years difference has less meaning on a social and developmental level.
The best spacing between children is generally at least 18 to 24 months, but not longer than five years. Of course, if you’re 35 and above, we understand wanting to speed up the process. Giving it 12 months in between delivering your baby and becoming pregnant again should be perfectly fine. In any case, just be sure to take some things into consideration, such as your health, situation, and family, and run it by your OBGYN.
We should note, however, that none of this timing applies if your previous pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. As long as you’re healthy and feel that it’s a good time to try again, we’ll cheer you along!
What Is The Best Way To Introduce My Child To My New Baby?
So, your little one is on the way, and you’re wondering how to prepare your older child for them. The answer depends a lot on how old they are, since there are different milestones that kids hit, but there are a few commonalities that may occur.
When your newborn arrives, your older child may be excited but—with the spotlight now shifted from them to your infant—they may also feel a bit left out. They may not be able to accurately express their feelings about a new younger sibling, which can result in behavior that is out-of-the-norm for them and challenging for you to manage.
They’re likely curious about the new arrival, so try to engage that interest and involve them in caring for the new baby. Try your best to still give them the love and attention they crave too. Though, always keep in mind that it’s impossible to give 100% of yourself to everyone 100% of the time. Don’t try to do everything on your own—that could be a fast ticket to burnout, which won’t help you or your children. Instead, make sure you involve your partner and close friends and family in their care.
On top of being excited, your kid may also feel a bit anxious about the new arrival, which can manifest as a tummy ache. Children often complain of tummy aches. And while there are many potential causes of belly discomfort in children (not to mention it’s a great way to get out of things!), your child’s belly may be bothering them because of stress they’re experiencing in anticipation of the new addition to the family. Learn how to tell the difference here.
However, if you suspect their tummy ache isn’t caused by stress, but rather gas, acid indigestion, or overeating, try giving them Children’s Mylicon Tummy Relief chewable tablets. They’re the only treatment that helps quickly relieve multiple symptoms of belly discomfort in kids.
Now that you know the general reactions your older child may have to your new baby, keep reading to learn what to expect according to their age. Plus, how you can help them understand and embrace the new member of the family.
1 to 2 years old: Toddlers are still in their early stages of social development, so they may not fully understand what it means to have a new little sister or brother. They can sense your emotions, though—and you can use that to your advantage. Talk excitedly about the “new baby.” They’ll pick up on your excitement, and are more likely to feel happy about the new arrival if they see that you are.
Show them pictures of babies in books, and any examples of family and friends you may have who are siblings. This will familiarize them with terms like “new baby” and “sister” and “brother.”
Help reassure them that they’re still special, and associate their sibling’s birth with a positive experience. One way to do that is to give them a special gift when your little one arrives, be it a new toy, taking them somewhere special, or letting them spend time alone with a favorite person. (Ehem . . . Grandma, you’re up!).
2 to 4 years old: Your preschool-aged child might need the most reassurance when it comes to a new baby. They might be used to being attached to your hip. You are their comfort zone, after all, and they may not be ready to share you. They may also be hyper-sensitive to change in the home—they’ve been the solo star of the show for some time now. So a new baby in town may feel like a threat. If your kid is around this age, you may need to handle the situation delicately, with a multi-pronged approach.
Introduce the concept of a younger sibling gradually, such as when you start buying things for the new infant or when they start asking questions about changes they see in your or their environment. Just be sure your preschooler hears about the new baby from you first, before anyone else.
Picture books can be a huge help for your child to learn and visualize the changes to come. They can also be a great way for you to spend some alone time together, as can playing games together, singing, or talking. These little moments can help reassure your youngster that you’re still interested in spending time with them. And they’re great opportunities to reassure them that you’ll still love them just as much after their new sibling arrives.
Honesty is of the utmost importance. Let them know that the little addition to your family will be cute and cuddly, but will also cry loudly and frequently, and that they’ll need a lot of your time and attention. You should forewarn them that it may be a while before they can play with their new brother or sister—babies need a lot of sleep and it can take a few months for them to start interacting with others. Also, prepare them by letting them know that you’ll be away for a little while to give birth, and set up time for them to spend with someone who will make them feel special and not left out.
Make your preschooler your helper as you prepare for the new baby. That way they feel as though they’re part of the process, rather than sidelined. Give them a doll to care for; this can help both girls and boys, since it shows them what goes into caring for a baby. Look at their own baby pictures with them, and describe what they were like. If you plan on reusing some of their baby things or toys, be sure they have a chance to play with them before you get them ready for your new infant.
If possible, try to get your child through major changes, like finishing potty training or switching from a crib to a bed, before the baby comes. If that’s a no-go, put your efforts on pause until your baby (and older child) are settled in at home. Otherwise, the sheer volume of changes in your little tyke’s life may be too overwhelming for them.
Keep in mind that it’s also normal for your child to regress slightly when you bring the new baby home. They may want to sleep with you when they were otherwise fine on their own, or even ask for a pacifier. These are their ways of making sure that they still have your attention and love. Try not to get mad at them if, for example, they have an “accident” when they’ve successfully toilet-trained. Instead, whenever they act more grown up, shower them with praise and encouragement.
This is also a great age to get them excited about being the older sibling. Engage them by saying what an important role they’ll be playing in their younger sibling’s life—and, of course, as Mommy’s little helper.
5 years old & above: School-aged children don't typically feel as threatened by a new baby as younger kids. That said, your child may come to resent all the attention your new little one is getting—both before and after they’re born. Try explaining the changes that will be coming in a way they can understand, both the positive and negative, and how they will be affected.
Enlist their help, and engage them in welcoming their younger sibling home. Ask them to help you prepare the baby’s room and clothes. If you can, have someone bring your child to the hospital soon after your new infant is born, so they can feel like part of the family, as opposed to an outsider.
Give your kid a purpose in the new baby’s life by telling them that their job is to help care for, protect, and teach their little sibling. Allow them to ask to hold the new bundle, and applaud them whenever they are loving and gentle with them.
Most of all, be sure to set aside some time each day when you can be alone together. And you can never remind them enough how special they are and how much you love them.
Will My Older Child Be Jealous of The New Baby?
Alas, try as you may, sibling rivalry can still happen. You may have tried all of the above, only for your older child to still have newborn jealousy. Although not your ideal situation, it can happen when a new baby enters the picture, and it could even last into their teen years.
Some signs that your kid is jealous of the new infant, and not just adjusting to the change, are typically regressions and out-of-the-norm behavior. These may include wanting to be held or carried, purposely getting into trouble to get your attention, or ignoring you or refusing to do as you ask. They may also start acting like a baby, wanting to wear diapers or drink from a bottle, sucking on their thumb, engaging in baby talk, or wetting their pants. This all equates to your child being excessively attention-seeking.
They may also do the opposite, and become quiet and withdrawn, upset or afraid, or disinterested in you and your partner. In especially difficult situations, they may also try to hit the baby. Any or all of this can be upsetting for both them and you. Fortunately, there are things you can try to help.
What To Do If Your Child Is Jealous of a Newborn
Take any opportunity you have to show your child an extra dose of attention whenever you are alone, such as when your infant is sleeping. If needed, have someone you trust stop in regularly to give the two of you some time together. As much as you want them to bond, try not to force anything on your child, like looking at or touching the new baby; wait until they’re ready in their own time. Do your best to maintain the same routine for your kid, so the new baby is seen as an addition, instead of an intrusion. And never leave a young child unattended with an infant.
If your child starts to regress in any of the ways we discussed, do not punish or shame them. Instead, try to pay little attention to the regressions, and heap on the praise when they act their age. If they say that they don’t like the new baby, hurtful as it may be to hear, try to validate their feelings, rather than make them feel guilty about them. Acknowledge that it’s not always fun having a baby around, but that you still love them, even when things aren’t so easy. And be sure to remind them of their importance in their new sibling’s life, now and for years to come.
Next: Get prepared for the new baby and organized with a birth plan, and even download and print your very own!