Mayo Clinic Health Library

New sibling: Preparing your older child

Updated: 03-23-2012

Bringing home a newborn is a little different the second time around. With your first child, you were probably focused on recovering from childbirth and figuring out how to care for a baby. With the second baby, you're more likely to wonder how your older child will react to having a new sibling — and how you're going to meet both of their needs. Here's help making the adjustment.

How can I prepare my older child for a new sibling?

Start by talking to your older child about the upcoming arrival of his or her new sibling. Show your older child your growing abdomen or ask him or her to help you collect baby supplies or set up the baby's nursery. You might also check into sibling preparation classes at a local hospital.

Explain to your older child that the new baby will probably eat, sleep and cry most of the time. The baby won't be a playmate right away. To minimize the stress your child might experience once the new baby arrives, think ahead. If your child will need to change rooms or move out of the crib to make space for the new baby, do so before the baby is born. This will give your older child a chance to get used to the new setup before dealing with the other changes associated with the baby's arrival. If possible, complete your older child's toilet training before the baby is born. Otherwise, wait until a few months after you bring your baby home to start the process. Arrange for your older child's care during your time in the hospital or birth center, and let your child know what to expect.

How should I introduce my older child to his or her new sibling?

When the new baby arrives, have your partner or a loved one bring your child to the hospital or birth center for a brief visit. During the visit, allow another loved one to hold the baby for a while so that you can give your older child plenty of cuddles. Consider giving your older child a gift that's from the baby, such as a T-shirt that says big brother or big sister. When you're home, you might take your older child to a special place — such as a favorite restaurant — to celebrate the new baby's arrival.

What can I do to help my older child adjust to having a new sibling?

Your older child's age and development will affect how he or she reacts to having a new sibling. While older children are typically eager to meet a new sibling, younger children might be confused or upset. Consider ways to help your child adjust. For example:

  • Children younger than age 2. Young children likely won't understand yet what it means to have a new sibling. Talk to your child about the new addition to your family. Look at picture books about babies and families.
  • Children ages 2 to 4. Children at this age might feel uncomfortable sharing your attention with a newborn. Explain to your older child that the baby will need lots of attention. Encourage your older child's involvement by taking him or her shopping for baby supplies or looking through his or her own baby items for things the new baby might use. Read to your older child about babies, brothers and sisters. Give your older child a doll so he or she can be a caregiver, too. Look at your older child's baby pictures together and tell the story of his or her birth.
  • School-age children. Older children might feel jealous of how much attention a new baby gets. Talk to your older child about your newborn's needs. Point out the advantages of being older, such as being able to go to bed later or play with certain toys. You might display your older child's artwork in the baby's room or ask your older child to help take care of the baby. Allow him or her to hold the baby under your supervision.

Regardless of your older child's age, make sure that he or she gets individual attention from you and other loved ones when the new baby arrives. If you're taking pictures or videos, include your older child. Take some pictures or videos of him or her alone, as well as with the new baby. Consider having a few small gifts on hand to give to your older child in case friends visit with gifts for the new baby.

Your older child might try to get your attention by breaking rules — even if it means he or she will be punished. To stop this behavior, praise your older child when he or she is behaving well. If you suspect your child is behaving badly to get your attention, consider ignoring the behavior. This might encourage your child to look for a more positive way to get your attention. Keep in mind that siblings sometimes regress after the arrival of a new baby — such as by having toilet training accidents or drinking from a bottle — to get attention. There's no need to punish this type of behavior. Instead, give your older child plenty of love and assurance.

How can I encourage my older child to be gentle with the new baby?

Sometimes older children — stressed by the changes happening around them — take out their frustration on a new baby. If your older child tries to take away the baby's bottle or harm the baby in any way, it's time for a talk. Sit your child down and explain that he or she isn't allowed to hurt the baby. Give your older child extra attention and include him or her in activities that involve the baby, such as singing, bathing or changing diapers. Praise your older child when he or she acts lovingly toward the new baby.

Even if your children seem to get along, supervision is essential. Don't leave your newborn alone with a sibling or other loved one younger than age 12.

How will my older child react to seeing me breast-feed the new baby?

If you plan to breast-feed your newborn, you might wonder how your older child will react to nursing sessions — or how to keep your older child busy while you nurse. Try not to worry. Your older child will likely express curiosity and might hover upon first seeing you breast-feed. Explain what you're doing and answer any questions your child might have. If you breast-fed your older child, explain that you did the same thing for him or her when he or she was a baby. To keep your child entertained while you nurse, set out toys, a workbook or other supplies beforehand. You might also play music or audio versions of children's books. If your older child asks if he or she can nurse, the decision is up to you. Most older children find the experience somewhat strange and quickly lose interest.

How do I explain a medical concern to my older child?

If your new baby has health issues, explain to your older child that his or her baby sister or brother is sick, and you're worried. If your baby needs to stay in the hospital after he or she is born, ask about the sibling visitation policy. You might also take pictures of the baby and show them to your older child. Keep in mind that if you don't talk to your older child about the baby's illness or condition, he or she will likely still sense that something is wrong. Rather than keeping your older child in the dark, give him or her some information about the situation and do your best to show that you're there for him or her.

A new sibling will undoubtedly change your older child's life. As your older child adjusts, reassure him or her of your love. Explain to your older child that he or she has an important role to play now, too — that of big brother or big sister.

Site view: at a glance