Your firstborn is your bread and butter. You’ve lived and breathed all the things for that special child since the first day she was born. But now that you’re expecting a new little one, it can be natural to worry about how they’ll fit into the family dynamic and how your oldest will handle having a sibling in the home. Luckily, you’ll have nine months to prepare for the arrival of your newest addition. You’ll also have just as long to prepare your little one for becoming the oldest child. Every child is unique and every child can handle the experience differently. Sadly, there’s no playbook to tell you exactly how to navigate this new terrain so you’ll have to stock up on tips from moms who’ve gone before and you’ll have to be prepared to dish out a hefty dose of patience and love. Here are a few tips for making the transition to a family of four (or more!) an easy one.
It’s always best to wait until you’re past the first trimester to announce a pregnancy to your child because the risk of a miscarriage drops significantly after 12 weeks. Grieving a lost pregnancy can be even more complicated if you have to explain and handle the questions of a little one as well. The age of your little one can also determine the proper timing for announcing your pregnancy. If your child has a hard time waiting for big events, you might find it easier to wait until your belly begins to show. You may also want to explain your due date in seasons not in months by saying, “The baby will come near Christmas or when summer comes and you’re out of school, the baby will arrive.” These can allow little minds to understand that it will be a long time before the baby is actually here. On the flip, if your child will need a lot of time to prep for baby’s arrival or has a hard time with change, the earlier you can begin the prep-work, the better.
Once you’ve announced that you’re expecting, make it a point to explain all the fun details of when you were pregnant with your oldest. Show them pictures of them in your belly, in the hospital or the day you brought them home from the hospital. Talk about how they acted when they were a baby and correlate that to how they can expect a new baby to act when it comes home.
Kids love to have jobs. Explain to your little one that they’re going to be responsible for a lot of important jobs once the baby arrives. Start early by allowing them to be a part of the baby announcement to others. Buy them a big brother or sister t-shirt so they can show off to others. Let them be involved in picking out items for the nursery, painting the room and building the crib, or even suggesting names for the new baby. Take them with you to an ultrasound appointment so they can see the baby’s heartbeat and see their little face on the screen. Prep them for baby’s arrival, let them know they’ll be helping with feeding, getting the paci or picking out cute outfits.
If your child is in the transition stage, as in learning to sleep alone or learning to go potty, it’s imperative that you wrap up those teaching tasks before baby’s arrival. It’s natural for kids to regress once the baby comes, so having these things solidified before the new baby will help ensure they aren’t prolonged by the birth. They’ll also help teach your child to be independent which will help oodles when baby arrives.
When baby makes their debut, make sure you’ve got a fun plan in place for your oldest sibling. They may enjoy staying with a grandparent, cousin or best friend on the day or night of the birth. Pack them a special book to read or a special card that lets them know the baby is on its way. Then, have the new big brother or sister escorted to the hospital as soon as possible to begin the bonding time. Let them know how fun it will be to be a family. Have a special gift to give the sibling from the new baby and vice versa.
Now, comes the tricky part. When baby arrives home, it will be normal for your oldest child to feel a little jealous. Help curve their feelings by allowing them to help with daily tasks and by carving out time each day to spend one on one with your oldest. They’ll love knowing that they still have the love and affection of mom and dad even though there’s a new baby in the house. If you’re tired or need to recover in bed, have your little one cuddle in with you and watch their favorite movie. It’s even perfectly fine for your child to ignore the baby, especially if your little one is too young to understand. As the days progress, you might notice your child becoming extra whiny or regressing to behaviors that were handled prebaby. Understand that what your child is feeling is normal and encourage them to speak to you about what they’re feeling. They may simply be seeking a little extra attention so you’ll want to be patient and comforting. If they are breaking rules, however, remember to stay firm and remind them that you expect the rules to be followed. They’ll actually thank you for the stability and for showing them that what they’ve come to expect is still the norm.
Welcoming a new baby is an exciting and special time for every family. By being proactive, patient and available, your oldest child will love the responsibility of being the “BIG” sibling. If your child is having an extremely hard time adjusting to the new family dynamic, you may want to seek help from your pediatrician on tips for helping your oldest cope with your newest addition. With time, you’ll be amazed to see how it all works out and how much endless love your siblings will have to each other. (Well, once they learn to share!)
 Cleveland Clinic, “Pregnancy: Preparing Children for the Birth of a Sibling.” link
 MayoClinic, “New sibling: Preparing your older child.” link
 Volling, Brenda L. Psychol Bull. “Family Transitions Following the Birth of a Sibling: An Empirical Review of Changes in the Firstborn’s Adjustment.” link
About the Author:
Tracy E. Brown is a journalist and educator with over 14 years of experience working in the field of Child Development. She is currently the Assistant Editor of Black Dress/Red Wagon Magazine in Atlanta, Ga. and previous Associate Editor at Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine. She previously taught preschool at the Goddard School in Farragut, Tennessee and taught Kindergarten for Dekalb County Schools in Atlanta. Other writing credits include the Green Building Research Institute, London’s facetheory.com, WBIR Channel 10 News, PBS, Duke University and American Airlines. She is also a mom to three adorable little ones.