7 Ways to Prepare Your Child for a New Baby


Becoming an older sibling is a huge transition, especially for a toddler who can’t fully grasp what that means. With Sprout gaining a baby brother in less than a month and a half (!), we’ve been working to get him ready for this major event. Unfortunately, it’s hard for us to take his viewpoint on this – I’m an only child and Chris doesn’t remember his sister being born.

So here’s some of the best advice we’ve gathered from articles and our own ideas, along  with how we’re applying it:

Setting appropriate expectations: Some kids think that they’ll have a quick playmate as soon as the baby’s born and then are mightily disappointed when they are at such a different developmental level. To prevent this, we’ve been talking a lot about how babies can’t do much when they are born except eat, sleep and poop. Quite honestly, they’re a bit boring. To make things a little more exciting and relevant to Sprout, we highlight what he’ll be able to do, like talk to the baby, sing to the baby, and help feed the baby.

Undoubtably, a highlight of these conversations has been explaining breastfeeding to him. I stopped nursing him after about a year, so he has zero memory of it. I explained that while Sprout drinks milk from cows, the baby will get milk from my breasts when I’m there. He’ll drink my milk from a bottle when I’m not. Hearing this, he declared, “Babies eat boobs!” As I tried to stifle my laughter and clarify the difference between eating and drinking, he followed up with, “Get a bucket for milk in the bottle.” I don’t know how he knows farmers use buckets for milking cows (we’ve been to farms, but never seen that), but the connection between me being milked for the baby and cows was both sharp and vaguely horrifying. Moo.

Reading books and watching shows relevant to the new sibling experience: Not surprisingly, telling stories is a major part of our approach. We particularly like Peter’s Chair (featuring the same character as The Snowy Day) and Maple. I also keep wanting to check out Lola Reads to Leo, as the book Lola Loves Stories has a great little heroine, but we haven’t gotten around to finding it in the library. In terms of TV, Daniel Tiger delivers the goods with a three-episode series about him getting a baby sister. While it made me intensely jealous of tigers’ rapid gestation period, it’s a great introduction to the whole process, from pregnancy to having a baby in the house. In fact, Daniel’s parents actually use a lot of the tactics here to get him ready!

Looking at photos and videos of Sprout when he was a newborn: Because toddlers love looking at themselves, this is one case in which a photo or video is worth a whole lot of words. Besides the fact that Sprout can be a narcissist, looking at photos and videos of him as a baby provides a great opening to talk about how little and helpless babies are.

Having him practice with a baby doll: We bought Sprout a baby doll a while back, but he didn’t show much inherent interest in it. But when we got serious about Campaign Big Brother, we pulled it out again. We use it along with some accessories we just bought to demonstrate a number of useful skills, like how to hold a baby, help feed the baby, and even bathe the baby. In particular, he’s been very keen on pretending to use the baby bottle, so that’s encouraging. Not all of his interactions with the doll are quite as brotherly though – he frequently holds it by its head or swings it around by its arm. But I suppose that’s why you don’t leave the toddler alone with the baby.

Seeing and interacting with other people’s babies: Nothing is quite as useful as real-world experience. While this isn’t available to most people, the best tool so far has been the opportunity to introduce Sprout to actual babies.

In particular, we’re friends with one couple who had a baby in December that we’ve seen several times since then. Sprout has been intensely interested in him, studying him as if he’s a new species. Occasionally, he touches him gently. These interactions are excellent reference points for later conversations about babies.

Unfortunately, his expectations are still a bit too high. At my birthday party this weekend, our friend put the baby down for tummy time. Sprout squatted down, tilted his head into the baby’s point of view and said, “He’s crawling!” When we explained that he was too little to crawl, he didn’t give up, heartily exclaiming, “Crawl, baby!” While I admire his support, we explained that the baby wasn’t going to learn how to crawl immediately just from encouragement alone.

Asking his opinions on decisions about the baby: Many, but not all, of the baby’s things will be hand-me-downs from Sprout. But we are getting the baby his own furniture and some new clothing. While it would have undoubtedly been easier for one of us to go shopping alone, we brought Sprout to Buy Buy Baby with us to look at bedding and test rockers. He must feel some level of responsibility because one day, he looked over at his rocker and told Chris, “Baby brother needs a book chair.”

We even took his opinion into account when it came to the name. For obvious reasons, we ignored his suggestion – Face – but did ask him as a tie-breaker between the name I liked the most and the one Chris did. Of course, he consistently picked Chris’s and then changed his mind as I was warming up to it. Toddlers. Despite his flip-flopping, we went with that one anyway and he seems quite keen on it now. I think sincerely asking his opinion helps him feel more invested in preparing for the baby instead of overlooked.

Having him talk to, “see” and “hear” the baby: Sprout talks to my belly almost every day. It’s usually not much, just a “Hello, baby brother,” but it’s terribly cute. The funniest thing is that he says it in a little tiny voice, even though he’s usually a loud talker. Somehow, he’s internalized that you need to be quiet around babies. We’ve also brought him to all of the doctor’s appointments, where he’s heard the baby’s heartbeat and seen him on the sonogram screen.

Providing him with emotional support: Since Christmas, Sprout has been both needier and more boundary-pushing than ever before. While this manifests most clearly during bedtime, it’s creeped into the rest of the day as well. I suspect that while we’ve been talking about this change for a long time, he now knows it’s approaching soon. Because he can’t articulate his concerns, his anxiety about it comes out in his behavior. Unfortunately, it most often emerges with yelling, ignoring me and using affection to delay getting things done. “I want a hug,” is his favorite phrase. While I’ll never deny him a hug, it’s annoying when it’s the fourth one when we should be washing hands before dinner. Nonetheless, we’ve stood by him through his frustrations, offering empathy and open arms.

Spring is almost here and so will be Sprout’s little brother. While it’s inevitably a challenging transition, I hope these steps will soften the change a little, making it more peaceful and joyful for everyone.

8 thoughts on “7 Ways to Prepare Your Child for a New Baby

  1. One thing my sister did when she was expecting her second was to tell her older daughter that the baby was making a gift for her, and had a toy the older daughter had wanted waiting for her in the hospital room when she introduced her to the new little one. We tried the same thing when our second was born last week, but our son was a lot less impressed, possibly because he was already excited about the sleepover he was going to have with his cousins while mommy was in the hospital.

    I’m an older sibling myself, so we were prepared for there to be some adjustment difficulties. But I was surprised at how understated his reactions were. I was expecting more histrionics, but we haven’t really seen much acting out so far – he’s been pretty much the same mostly-but-not-always-good four-year-old he always was. The main thing is the neediness at bedtime, like you mentioned with Sprout. Last night, after a fairly usual round of “I love you all the way to space and back”, he very quietly said, “Daddy, are you sure you really love me?”.

    But then the other day, he told us that he’d missed playing with mommy’s tablet more than he actually missed us while he was visiting his cousins, so I don’t know.

    The thing I’d been worried most about didn’t happen, though. We’ve had no awkward questions about mortality stemming from the fact that he knew that this was our second attempt.

    I guess it wasn’t an issue for you, but since my kids aren’t the same sex, we’re also trying to work out the best way to address the whole issue of, “Hey, why doesn’t my sister have a penis?” when it comes up – he’s not all the way there yet, but we can sort of sense it coming.

    (Which has got me wondering if there’s any reasonable whats-the-deal-with-genitals books that aren’t outright trans-erasing. Not even per se trans-inclusive, just, like, something that avoids pronouncements along the lines of “Every boy is… / Every girl has…”)

    • Congrats on your second child! Your child asking if you still love them must be so sweet and so heartbreaking at the same time. Luckily for him, I’m sure you can answer “absolutely” with no regrets.

      In terms of the mortality issue, this was our second attempt as well, but it ended early enough that we hadn’t told him yet. He knew mommy and daddy were sad for a while, but we didn’t really explain why.

      A book like that would be useful! Little kids are so into absolutes that I think it would be very hard to write and frame correctly. Let me know if you find it.

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