Why I Built This Kit:
This topic hits close to home right now. We are getting ready to welcome a second baby into our family in the coming months, and I am eager to prepare our toddler-aged son as much as possible. I know there are some things that there is simply no way to prepare for, but I am a big believer in the power of books to build understanding about the unknown even for the youngest readers, and in opening ongoing dialogues through words and actions. I will be trying some of these tactics and tools right along side you!
There are a lot of articles and advice available out there on how to prepare a future big brother or sister for a new sibling. Some of the key points that experts return to over and over, and some that I think I’ll need to remind myself of:
- Include Your ChildInvolve your child as much as you both feel comfortable both before and after baby arrives. Tell them about the pregnancy, bring them to doctor appointments to hear the baby’s heartbeat or see their new sibling’s image on an ultrasound. Take them on a hospital tour. Have them help you with your household preparations for the baby. Once the baby arrives invite them to help you dress the baby (pick out clothes), assist with feedings (even if this is just fetching a nursing pillow), bathe the baby, etc. This will give your older child a feeling of ownership and pride in their new sibling and their own skills and helpfulness.
- Know Your ChildYou know your child best. Just because something is listed as a recommended activity does not mean it is necessarily right for your child. For example, I did not bring my son to an ultrasound because I have witnessed him get upset when he thinks I am hurt or that other people are hurting me. While I have friends whose children quickly recognized and loved seeing the baby on the screen, my intuition told me my son would probably feel more stress than excitement in that particular situation. I chose and continue choose other ways to include him a head of time instead.
- Give Your Child Room To Feel Frustrated and UpsetEven if they are on their way to becoming independent and seem “mature” for their age and very understanding of the new addition and change in family circumstances, it might be safer to expect some outbursts, sleep regression, etc. rather than expect your older child to maintain their cool front all the time. Changes are scary and stressful—I for one get totally unnerved and out of sorts even with changes I know are good such as moving to a new city that is closer to family or starting an awesome job, and I am apt to have some sleepless nights or cranky moods. It’s only fair that our young children are allowed that same space to process something big (and awesome!) like a new sibling. Relatedly, do not try to force their interest in either a pregnancy or new baby.
- Reassure your child both before and after the baby arrives that you love themAfter the baby is born, remind them that in fact, they are loved even more than before the baby came, because now the new baby loves them, too! Reassure them that they hold a special place in the family that no one else can fill. And then when you think you’ve reassured them enough, reassure them again!
- Make one-on-one time just for your older childThis might be part of an old routine, such as a bedtime story, or it might be a special new routine, such as a mommy- or daddy-and-me date.
Here is a short list of online resources that are representative of the type and style of information out there:
Kidshealth.org: Preparing your child for a new siblingA good overview of what to expect from and how to help your child adjust before and after the baby arrives. One of the most important take-aways for me was not to force a child’s interest in pregnancy or a new baby.
Babycenter.com: Preparing your 2-year-old for a new siblingI found the age specificity of this article very helpful. Here are similar articles targeted for 3-year-olds and preschoolers.
PhD in ParentingA blog with a conversational, down-to-earth tone and just the right amount of humor
- Preparing an older sibling for a new birth: this guest post offers up some great ideas and resources for preparing a child for pregnancy and birth.
- To tandem or not to tandem: still nursing? Wondering about weaning during pregnancy or tandem nursing? This one’s for you.
- Soon they are best friends: thoughts and experiences on transitioning from one to two little ones and how to help your older child adjust.
Take Advantage of Social Media
The only thing other thing I would add is to take advantage of social media. I love to get out of the house and meet up with other parents in person, but life doesn’t always allow that to happen at the exact moment I need the extra little boost to my sanity. I have found a couple of locally based online parenting groups that have privacy settings I feel comfortable with, and I can always turn to these groups for advice, encouragement, and to hear about others’ experiences. For me, turning to local online groups is especially nice because I always hear about resources, family-friendly activities, or places to visit in the area that are new to me.
Spark Their Interest
When you tell your child you’re going to have another baby, tell them with excitement, but don’t force their own interest or questions. Follow your child’s lead on when those unfold. When they do ask questions, try to answer them simply and honestly. If they ask the timeless and often dreaded questions, “Where do babies come from?” or “How are babies made?” there are lots of ways to give your toddler facts.
The What To Expect site offers some fabulous advice in the toddler sex ed arena:
"My three-year-old daughter has asked that dreaded question, 'How are babies made?' (I'm sure this question has arisen because I'm pregnant.) How do you answer this question in an age-appropriate manner?"
Just give her the facts, Mom. You can start with the very basics: "When a Mommy and Daddy love each other, they come together to make a baby." Then, answer her follow-up questions only as needed, giving her just the info she's asking for — not more, not less. The point is to take it in baby steps, so to speak, but not to withhold what she asks about. Age-appropriate honesty is the best policy.
What if she asks how babies are actually made? Explain that Mommy and Daddy get very close to make the baby — it's like pieces of a puzzle fitting together. She probably won't need to take it any further than that, but if she does there's no harm in providing her with answers.
Try to always use the appropriate terminology — penis, vagina, sperm, ovum. Remember, they aren't dirty words, they're scientific words. Remember, too, that it isn't sex she's asking about or thinking about or interested in: She's thinking about the science of the process. (Young children are very curious about all things scientific, and this is among those intriguing topics.) Or read a book together that deals with the topic (such as What to Expect When Mommy's Having a Baby), editing out whatever you feel is age-inappropriate for your child. Don't be tempted to try cabbage-patch approaches or birds and bees analogies (they're confusing!). And just remember, this is the easy stage…the questions will be tougher ten years from now!”
- There’s Going to Be a Baby by John Burningham, illus. by Helen OxenburyA story that captures all of the excitement, worry, and questions a young child has about a new baby.
- New Baby Train by Woody Guthrie, illus. by Marla FrazeeWhile this story is not about welcoming a new sibling per se, it provides a creative answer to a common question that young children have: where do new babies come from? Woody Guthrie’s rhythmic lines and Marla Frazee’s captivating illustrations will delight curious and train-loving minds alike.
- You Can Do It Too! by Karen Baiker, illus. by Ken Wilson-MaxGet your kiddo excited about how they’ll be able play with their younger sibling through this story, which shows a big sister role modeling and encouraging her toddler brother to take on various activities.
- Hello in There!: A Big Sister’s Book of Waiting by Joe Witek, illus. by Christine RousseyAn oversized interactive board book that shows an excited big-sister-to-be starting her sisterly duties early while baby is still in utero.
- One Special Day by Lola Schaefer and illus. by Jessica MeserveA little boy discovers how having a new brother or sister add to the numerous traits that make him uniquely him. A book that incorporates one of kids’ favorite themes – animals – into a sweet story about becoming an older brother.
- Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack KeatsPeter’s parents have taken his baby furniture and painted it pink for his new baby sister, and Peter is not pleased about it! A story that deals with some of the frustrations of becoming an older brother or sister.
- Little Tiger’s Big Surprise! By Julie Sykes, illus. by Tim WarnesLittle Tiger does not think he wants a new cub in the family, especially when he sees how much trouble babies cause for his other animal friends. But when his little sister arrives, he learns otherwise.
- Waiting for Baby, My New Baby, You and Me, and Look at Me by Rachel FullerA series of four board books that go through the experiences of pregnancy, a new baby, and the excitement and frustrations of being an older sibling through a diverse cast of families.
- What Will Baby Be Like? by Violet M. FindlayA book full of simple text and photographs showing youngsters what to expect from a new baby, as well as places to put photographs from your own family that personalize the story even more.
- The New Baby by Fred RogersA great conversational book by the beloved Mr. Rogers, and a prime pick for young children because of the photographs it includes of families welcoming new babies.
- Snuggle the Baby by Sara GillinghamA fun interactive book that shows kids how to help take care of a baby, from tickling to diapering to swaddling!
- I’m a Big Sister or I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole, illus. by Rosalinda KightlyTwo books with similar text that differ in the perspective of either a new older sister or brother, presenting what having a new sibling is like.
- You’re All My Favorites by Sam McBratney, illus. by Anita JeramA sweet story of reassurance that explains how three little bear cubs can all be loved and all hold a special place in their family.
- iMommy (iOS, Android)This app lets kids role play and take care of a baby by changing, feeding, playing with, and bathing them. I like that kids can “design” their own baby, too!
- Big Baby (iOS)An award winning app, kids can choose one of four babies (George, Rosie, Asher, or Bo) to care for in a self-directed style. They can see how baby responds to different scenarios and what makes him or her happy or content. Tasks include changing, preparing food, playing, changing diapers, tickling, singing, putting to bed, and reading a story (yay!) about the babies.
- Big Little Brother (iPad)This interactive book app explores sibling dynamics between two brothers—Big brother Kevin wants a little brother, until Little Brother arrives! A heartwarming story from an older sibling’s perspective that goes beyond the baby phase to the day the little brother grows even taller than Kevin.
Watch, Listen, Learn
- Newborn CriesShow your toddler some videos of newborn babies crying. This will show them what newborn babies look like, as well as prepare them for the sound that is soon to become a part of their lives. As you watch the videos, explain to them some of the reasons that babies cry: hunger, tiredness, dirty diaper, etc. Reassure them that it does not mean the baby is hurt but that they do not yet have any other way to communicate their needs! Try short clips such as this or this. Other videos geared towards parents are also great options, such as this video from the March of Dimes on crying. Here crying is explained in relatively simple terms and you can ask your child to help you brainstorm reasons why the baby might be crying, both hypothetically, and in real life once the baby arrives!
- Your Child, the Movie StarSet a viewing time for home videos you have of your toddler as a baby. Let your kiddo see that they were once a baby, too, and what they looked and sounded like. As you watch, talk about what you remember about them as a baby. Did they always want to be held? Did they sleep well in a swing or carseat? Did they like to be outside? Ask them to predict what the new baby might be like.
- Sesame Street – We Got A Brand New BabyEnjoy watching this classic Sesame Street song—nothing like some fuzzy monster muppets to sing about welcoming a new baby into the house!
- Sesame Street – Maria Has a BabyFrom 1989, this episode (available in two parts on YouTube) shows Maria having a baby and the excitement and emotion on Sesame Street surrounding the big event. Part one. Part two.
- Mister Rogers Talks About How Moms Feed Their BabiesA lovely segment from Mister Rogers that talks about feeding babies, showing clips of baby animals nursing, human babies nursing, and human babies drinking from a bottle.
Have your child help decorate a space for the new baby. They could pick out bedding or a paint color, draw a special picture to hang on the baby’s wall, pick out some books that baby might enjoy and can live on a shelf in their space, lay out some outfits that baby might be able to wear soon after birth, etc. This will help your child feel included from the get-go!
Make a photo album of your kiddo as a baby so they can see pictures of themselves from the time they were born and how they have grown. Talk about how the new baby might have different features or some that are similar! Maybe they will both have brown eyes. Maybe not. Maybe their noses will look a little different, or maybe the baby will have curly hair just like their older brother or sister.
Get crafty and give your toddler supplies for making a photo frame for the new baby to keep a picture of their special older sibling in. I love this sparkly sequin frame that uses an inexpensive frame, glue, and sequins, or a frame made out of popsicle sticks and decorated with buttons, pom-poms, paint, etc. Maybe your little one wants to make two: one for the baby to have a picture of them, and one for them to have a picture of the baby!
Give your child a baby doll that they can pretend to parent and help care for both in preparation for baby and after baby arrives. They can change a diaper right alongside you, swaddle, sing to the doll as they rock it, pretend to nurse or bottle-feed, dress the baby doll, take it on walks in a stroller or wear it in a sling or carrier, etc. This will help your toddler feel helpful and understand all the things that a baby needs, as well as give them specific tasks to tend to. Plus it promotes imaginary play! One note about this activity: please don’t think that this is just for girls. Little boys love to play with dolls, too, and they benefit in the same ways!
Many children enjoy and profit from having some kind of routine. In my house, while we do not always do things at the exact same time, there is definitely a pattern to our days, and we try to maintain some semblance of that pattern even when we are away. For example, most days my son has lunch and then a few (5-20) minutes of quiet play before he takes a mid-day nap. Do we vary from this on occasion? Absolutely. If he woke up at 4:30 a.m. one day (don’t you love those mornings?) you can bet he’s not making it to lunch before nap. But routines make life more predictable for young kids, giving them some sense of control. Obviously the arrival or a new sibling will change daily patterns.
Help your child weather and embrace these changes by including them as much as possible in the new routines. Ask them to brainstorm with you to come up with a new routine for the whole family or just for the siblings. Maybe your tot would like to sing the baby a song every day or read them a story—even if your older child isn’t “reading” yet, they might still enjoy holding up a book and turning the pages for the baby to look at, or telling the story as they remember it. Maybe they can assist you with baby’s bath time. Perhaps a family dance party should be introduced as a regular routine, where everyone in the family dances to one song each day. Family members can take turns picking the song. Maybe baby is involved in your tot’s bedtime story, or maybe that time is reserved as special one-on-one time for your older child. When it is time to nurse or bottle-feed baby, perhaps your older child has a special pile of books or quiet toys reserved for them to play with while baby eats.
As you think of new routines or ways to involve your older child in new routines, talk to them openly about the changes. Explain that their younger brother or sister is so new, they need time to learn about your family’s routines, and boost your child’s self-esteem by reminding them of all the things they are able to do that baby can’t yet do, encouraging your child to model and teach the baby. Slowly, everyone will adjust and the new routines will no longer be new!
Another Voice Heard From
Sometimes children hear things better coming from a friend or relative (other than a parent) or…stuffed animal. Likewise they might be more willing to share their emotions with such a figure. I have distinct memories of taking advice/instructions from or explaining feelings to my bunny puppet rather than one of my parents. So I loved this post about a stuffed animal bear’s letters to a little boy who was going through a particularly anxiety-ridden period of his life. I think this type of activity translates well to something to do with a future or new big brother or sister. Give your child a new stuffed animal; it does not need to be big (the one in the post was a beanie baby bear). Introduce the stuffed animal with a letter, and continue to write letters from the animal to your child, maybe once a week. Use the letters as opportunities to ask questions, offer sympathy, and make up stories from the perspective of the stuffed animal. Encourage your child to respond, either by talking to the stuffed animal or dictating to you what to write. Maybe there is a special mailbox or delivery location in your house just for these correspondences. If stuffed animals don’t seem to be your child’s thing, consider other important adults in your child’s life, someone they seem to connect well with and who you both trust—a grandparent, neighbor, aunt or uncle, family friend, etc.—with whom you could arrange a play date, neighborhood walk, or outing once a week or every couple of weeks. Your child would enjoy the extra attention and can still have the chance to vent, play, ask questions, or simply not talk or think about the baby for a little bit.
Take a trip to a bookstore or toy store and let your child pick out a present to give to their new brother or sister when they arrive. Select something small for the new baby to “give” to your older child, as well. While the latter gift might seem superficial, your child will first associate their new brother or sister with something given rather than something taken away.
About AlexandraGreetings from central Maine! Things you should know about me: I am the mother of an inquisitive, active toddler who keeps me on my toes. I work in a small, independent children’s bookstore where I get to help kids, teens, and their grown-ups find books that will keep them up reading all night long. Just kidding about that last part, they go to sleep eventually, I swear. Well, I don’t swear, but I assume. But matching people and books? My favorite way to play matchmaker! Before moving to Maine I worked as a historical researcher for American Girl, where I learned about everything from steamboats to wars to parrots. I am also a children’s book author myself, with my first picture book due to come out in 2015! When I’m not knee-deep in books or blocks or a sandbox, I bake a lot, avoid cleaning at all costs, and try to spend as much time outdoors as possible. For the record, I would love to be a neat and orderly person, it just doesn’t seem to be my style. I’m working on it.