Expecting a new family member? Here’s how to prepare your child for the arrival of a baby brother or sister.
The birth of a sibling is a big moment in your child’s life. During your pregnancy, you can take steps to help make the transition as smooth as possible.
New family roles
For a young child, the arrival of a baby brother or sister can be overwhelming. Suddenly, their role in the family changes. They go from being the youngest or only child to the eldest or middle child.
Often, children struggle with this transition. The youngest often gets more attention from their parents and extended family, who tend to spoil and praise the “baby of the family.” As a result, they’re likely to feel like the favourite, even if this isn’t the case. Most parents agree that they love their children differently, but equally.
As the older child adjusts to their new role within the family, they also need to develop patience and maturity. Suddenly, they need to wait their turn, which they may not be used to. When it’s their turn, they may also sense that they’re getting less time and consideration than their sibling. To get their parents’ attention, they may adopt disruptive or even regressive behaviours.
Finally, becoming a big brother or sister often involves new responsibilities. Their parents may ask them to help take care of the baby or do household chores, forgetting that they’re still a child, too. Parents also tend to emphasize that the older child should be a good role model and set an example. Some children take this role very seriously and get anxious about maintaining good behaviour, so it’s best to avoid putting this kind of pressure on your child.
How to prepare your child before baby arrives
Here are some steps you can take to prepare your child for a new sibling.
2 years and up
Once you know that your pregnancy is going well—generally by the second trimester—you can tell your child that you’re expecting a baby. Use simple, age-appropriate words. Remember, the birth of a baby is very abstract for a young child. Once they see your growing belly and the new baby items in your home, they may find it easier to conceptualize what’s happening. For this reason, some parents choose to share the news just two or three months before the due date.
- Talk about the changes that will happen at home. Answer any questions your child has about childbirth and reproduction using language they’ll understand.
- Reassure your child that you’ll always love them. Make them feel important. Explain that they’ll have a vital role to play and a special relationship with the baby.
- Read them books about new babies and becoming a big brother or sister.
If you’re expecting mom, encourage your partner to spend more time with your child. Since you won’t be as available once the new baby arrives, it’s best to get them used to it.
- Look through your child’s baby pictures together. Tell them about their birth so they understand where they came from and what a pregnancy means.
Bring your child to visit someone who has just had a baby. Knowing what an infant looks and sounds like will help them build realistic expectations.
- Ask them to help you choose a name or clothes for the baby.
If you’re the mom, place your child’s hand on your belly so they can feel the baby kicking.
If you plan to move your child to a toddler bed so the baby can use the crib, make this transition well before their sibling is born. This will give them time to become attached to their new bed, and they won’t feel like they’ve lost the crib because of the baby.
- Ask your child to make drawings or crafts to display in the nursery.
- Spend quality time as a family. This will strengthen your bond and bolster your child’s sense of belonging.
Before age 2
Parents of young toddlers are often more concerned about how their child will react to a new sibling, believing they can’t do anything to prepare them for the big change. However, children understand language long before they can speak. It’s therefore recommended to talk to your little one about the baby, using concrete language.
Speak plainly. For example, if you’re the mom, you could put your child’s hand on your stomach and say, “Mommy has a baby in her belly.” As the pregnancy progresses, your child will be able to feel the baby’s movements. You could then describe what’s happening in simple terms: “The baby is kicking.”
However, keep in mind that before 18 months, children have difficulty understanding that some things exist even when they can’t see them. You’ll need to invite your child to touch your belly many times before they do it on their own.
Young toddlers often enjoy playing with and taking care of baby dolls (e.g., rocking them, giving them kisses). This type of role-playing can help prepare them for a new baby. You could also tuck the doll under your shirt and then reveal it, saying, “The baby is hiding.” Your child may enjoy playing this game, too!
If your child is showing signs of jealousy before the baby is born, they may already be feeling threatened. Ask yourself if the baby is taking up too much space in your daily life and conversations. Could your child be feeling left out? Reflect on your behaviour and make adjustments as needed. Your child needs to feel loved, so don’t hesitate to show them affection and spend quality time together.
Reading children’s books about the birth of a sibling can be very helpful. You can also draw inspiration from books to explain what’s about to happen, or use them as an opportunity to ask your child about their feelings.
Discover our book recommendations for preparing for the birth of a sibling.
- Once Upon a Baby Brother
- You Were the First
- I Am a Big Sister
- I Used to Be the Baby
- Stanley’s Little Sister
- Little Critter: The New Baby
Here are a few suggestions for kids under 3:
- Hello in There!: A Big Sister’s Book of Waiting
- Waiting for Baby
- There’s Going to Be a Baby
Things to keep in mind
The birth of a sibling is an important moment in a child’s life that can lead to behavioural changes.
Talk about the baby’s arrival in simple language. Keep in mind that it may take some time for your child to understand what’s about to happen.
Books are a good way to talk about the new baby.
Scientific review: Geneviève Parent, sexologist, psychotherapist, and parental counsellor
Research and copywriting:The Naître et grandir team
Updated: January 2022
Photo: iStock/Dean Mitchell
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Dolto, Françoise. Tout est langage. Éditions Gallimard, 2014, 288 pp.
Dumonteil-Kremer, Catherine. La famille s’agrandit. Éditions Jouvence, 2019, 160 pp.
Lambin, Michèle. Frères et soeurs pour la vie: Complicités et rivalités. Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2019, 164 pp.