Preparing Child for a New Sibling

Adding to your family (through pregnancy or adoption) is exciting and stressful. Parents know how to express their emotions and cope with the stress. However, the children you already have may not be ready to welcome a new sibling (a brother or sister through birth, adoption, or stepfamily). Regardless of your child’s age, there are many ways to prepare for a new arrival.

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Share the good news of a new sibling by talking with your child. Use words they will understand. If your child is under the age of 5 and you are pregnant, tell him or her about the baby growing inside your belly. Use picture books to describe new babies. Tell your child that babies cry, sleep a lot, wear diapers, and need to be held.

If you are adopting a baby, tell your young child all the same things about the baby you plan to adopt. Some parents tell their young toddlers that the baby they are adopting is not growing inside mommy’s belly. Instead, they explain that the baby they are adopting comes from mommy’s heart because she has so much love to give. Modify your talk with school-aged children and teens, based on their understanding of pregnancy and adoption. Be prepared for your teens to be embarrassed by the addition of a newborn.

If you are adopting an older child, prepare the child you already have by explaining the new child’s age, interests, and other positive information. If there is a chance the adoption could be cancelled, do not tell your child about his or her sibling until closer to the time that child arrives. You will avoid disappointment and sadness by waiting.

If you are pregnant, have a plan for bringing your child or children to the hospital to meet the new baby. Remind your child about how excited you were when they were born. Look at pictures and tell stories from that time.

In all cases, let your children know that they are loved and that will never change. Assure your school-aged children and teens that nothing will change with their routines and activities. Reassure your children of all ages that you will continue to be active and present in their lives.

Involve the child or children in planning for their new brother or sister. That might include decorating the new child’s room, buying toys and clothes, and making announcements (a fun craft you and your child can do together). If your child and the new sibling have to share a room, involve your child in a plan to feel like they still have their own space. Have something special and age appropriate waiting for the day the new brother or sister is born or arrives. That might be a special toy or “I’m the older brother or sister” T-shirt for a young child, a fun craft for a school-aged child (to distract them from the attention the new child will receive from family, friends, and neighbors), or a gift card or movie tickets for your teen. Visitors who want to meet the new child often bring gifts for that child, so it’s nice to give your other children something special.

After the new child is born or arrives, make your other children part of the new child’s life and routine. Prepare for ways they can help. That might involve dressing, diapering, feeding, or reading to a newborn. Your child also can help with some of those same responsibilities if you are adopting a toddler.

Don’t forget to spend one-on-one time with your other children. Even with the best planning, change can difficult. You, too, will enjoy the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with each of your children.

There will be bumps in the road as the entire family gets used to a new addition. Encourage everyone to talk about his or her feelings and frustrations. And don’t forget to talk about other things not related to the new child. It will be a welcomed conversation.

Things to consider

Children can have a range of emotions when a new child joins the family. Jealousy is the most common. Your child may think you are spending too much time with the new child. It may appear that you are spending extra money on the new child. Keep these thoughts in mind as you prepare and talk with your child.

Sometimes a new brother or sister has a medical or behavioral issue, whether they come from a pregnancy or adoption. For example, a child who is born with Down syndrome will need many hours of care and attention in the early years of his or her life. This adds extra stress to the family and may take time away from other children. You will have to prioritize, based on the needs of all your children. Use words that your child understands to explain why you have to spend extra time with the new child. In those situations, it’s even more important to schedule one-on-one time with your other children.

Your child may gain a new brother or sister through a stepparent relationship. This can be stressful, as well. Whether it’s a blended family situation or a new baby, it requires the same care and sensitivity from adults.

Watch for signs that your child may not be adjusting well to a new brother or sister. This could include being clingy (not wanting to leave your side), or reverting to old behaviors (having potty accidents after he or she is toilet trained, tantrums, sucking his or her thumb, playing with old toys that you’ve given to the new child).

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Could a new baby interrupt my child’s sleep?
  • How do I safety-proof my home for a new baby without taking away my other child’s toys and belongings?
  • How do I teach my child to share?
  • How can I help my child grieve a newborn death or a failed adoption after we’ve been preparing for the new child’s arrival?