Article at a Glance:
- How you introduce a new baby will vary widely based on your older child’s age.
- Including your older child in age-appropriate ways is an important—and fun—way to ensure a smoother transition.
- Be patient with your child and with yourself— and brace for some regression, acting out, and strange questions.
Bringing home your second
child has its own unique set of challenges. While you likely feel more
confident about caring for a newborn, you may be nervous about balancing the
needs of two children.
We’ve collected a list of age-appropriate tips for helping older kids feel included and helping everyone in your family transition into this new and exciting stage.
Lay Some Groundwork
Giving birth and caring for a newborn can leave you feeling exhausted. Make the first few weeks as easy as possible by taking a few steps in advance:
Take the effort out of mealtime: As many parents can attest, preparing dinner with a
newborn can be the most stressful time of day. For many infants, this is when
fussiness peaks, which can set off a chain reaction of tension in all family
members. Whether preparation means cooking ahead and freezing, buying
ingredients for simple meals, or stocking up your takeout menus, make the first
few weeks less stressful by keeping dinner simple.
Plan to keep your older child on their current
routine, if possible. If your child usually
goes to daycare but you plan to keep him or her home during your maternity
leave, creating a new routine will take some time and patience. Consider trying
to match your home routine to the daycare routine. Your older child will feel
less disrupted, and it will help establish a framework for your newborn’s
routine. When your new baby joins their sibling at daycare, you’ll be one step
closer to a smooth transition.
Postpone other big transitions. Unless you can be done several weeks before the baby arrives, don’t try to potty train, move houses, give up sippy cups, or move your child out of their crib. Some regressive behavior in your older child is typical when a new baby arrives, and you may be too tired to keep up the enthusiasm and positive reinforcement these types of transitions require from parents.
Help Your Child Transition
Toddler Siblings (1-2 Years Old)
While there may not be much you can do to mentally prepare a child this young for the realities of a new baby, you can still frame it as a positive experience.
“Our two-year-old prefers having our undivided attention, which is tough to get with a new baby in the house. Last night she told me she wanted to show me something upstairs in her room, but that I needed to leave her baby brother downstairs.” —Ben
- Look at picture books about being a big brother or sister, or caring for babies. We have several recommendations below.
- Reassure them of their special place in your family. Carve out one-on-one time, include them in feeding time by letting them cuddle nearby, or have the baby arrive with a special gift.
- Play up their new “big kid” privileges and responsibilities. This could mean letting them hand you the pacifier, shake up a bottle, or bringing you a diaper.
- Keep a basket of toys and books near wherever you’ll feed the baby. Consider rotating in a few surprises to keep it interesting. Distractions like these can help you keep your toddler in sight and engaged while letting you relax and tend to your newborn.
- Expect some regressive behavior. A weaned toddler may want to nurse. A verbal child may revert to pointing and grunting. These are normal and should resolve with time.
- If you plan to tandem nurse, talk with your pediatrician. He or she will want to be aware of this as they monitor your newborn’s weight and growth.
- If your partner will have time off or you have other family visiting to help, direct some of their attention toward your older child. Special outings with Dad or Grandma can help reinforce that they are still just as interesting as the new baby everyone is fussing over.
Preschooler Siblings (3-4 Years Old)
“When we had our second daughter, her older sister was three and a half, and totally convinced the new baby was hers. She would correct everyone—from the neighbor to the pediatrician—if they congratulated or complimented my husband or I on our new baby.” —Lisa
Most of the same advice for toddlers also applies to preschoolers. But, instead of the challenge of caring for two mostly helpless humans, the significant hurdles at this age are managing expectations and balancing the attention you give both children.
- Be clear about what a new baby means. Instead of talking about how much fun they’ll eventually have together, focus conversations on what the baby will be like in the first few months. Talk about how babies sleep a lot, cry sometimes, but will eventually be laughing and smiling.
- Introduce a doll to help model how to handle a baby gently. When the baby arrives, your child may enjoy copying your actions by rocking, feeding, and bathing their baby.
- Acknowledge their feelings. Before baby comes and after, read children’s books that address the mixed emotions that accompany this transition. As with toddlers, carve out one-on-one time and ask visiting friends and family to direct some of their attention to your older child.
- Include them in feeding time by making it a special time to read a book or watch educational programming together.
- Give them a voice in some day-to-day choices and tasks. Kids this age may enjoy fetching diapers, choosing baby’s pajamas, or picking which melody the activity mat will play.
School Age Siblings (5+ Years Old)
“My five-year-old son never asked me why his baby sister looked different when I changed her diaper, but one day as I was kneeling by the tub bathing her, he peered over my shoulder and said with a great sense of relief in his voice, “Oh I get it. They just wear their bums on the front!” —Tobi
A child this age has enjoyed a long reign as “the baby” and may take longer to warm up to the idea of a baby. Or he may hear, “new baby” and think a new playmate is on the way. If he or she is expecting someone they can race scooters with, they could quickly become disillusioned about the whole experience.
- Tell your child about the baby before they hear it
from others. Be frank about the positive and negative aspects of having a baby
in the house. Look for opportunities for them to see infants up close, so their
expectations are realistic.
- Give big kids a supporting role to play. Teach him or
her how to hold the baby safely and praise their efforts to remember hand
hygiene and be gentle.
- Be ready for questions. Breastfeeding, diapering, and giving
birth are probably all new territory to them. If questions like, “how does the
baby get out of your tummy” or, “why hasn’t the baby got a penis?” make you
uncomfortable, rehearse some simple, age-appropriate answers to prevent being
caught off guard.
- Involve your child in decision making and preparation.
Some kids may enjoy helping pick nursery colors while others may want a turn at
twisting the screwdriver while you assemble the crib. Include them in
age-appropriate ways wherever you can.
Remember their needs and activities. Going out with two kids may be daunting at first, but your older child will likely grow restless after a couple of weeks of being housebound. Work with your partner and trusted family and friends to make sure your older child is still able to make play dates, practices, and the other events that make up their normal routine.
Book Suggestions for Toddlers
I am a Big Sister
The New Baby
My New Baby
There’s Going to Be a Baby
Book Suggestions for
Preschoolers and Kindergarteners.
Once Upon a Baby Brother
What Brothers Do Best
The Boss Baby
How To Be a Baby
Reviewed on April 9, 2019 by:
Dr. Later is a father of three boys, a die-hard Utah Jazz fan, and a lover of the outdoors. He has an interest in sports medicine and autism spectrum disorder. Languages: English, Spanish
Share this article: