Children use pretend play to practice & prepare for real life experience.
Having a new baby brings about a lot of excitement, love, and wonderment to a household. It also brings about changes that take time for the family to adjust- for both the parents and for older siblings.
The fact is that in those first several months, so much of the parents’ energy must be devoted to meeting baby’s most basic needs. This can be challenging for older siblings. For toddlers who are going from being the only child to having a baby in the family, it can be difficult and confusing.
Parents should expect it to take time to for older siblings to adapt. It will be important to sympathize with the child’s emotions and pay attention to their needs as they get accustomed to the new life.
Children may be apprehensive throughout the pregnancy about what a new sibling will mean for them. On the other hand, they may be looking forward to it. Other kids may be indifferent all together. A mix of all these feelings would be perfectly normal. How children react depends on so many factors including their own personal security, their individual personalities, their level of understanding what’s happening, and their age. Whatever the case, it will be one of the biggest changes they’ve ever experienced in their young lives.
How can you make this transition easier by preparing toddler for new baby during your pregnancy? You can – and SHOULD- make the big change as smooth as possible by beginning to prepare them as soon as you can.
These 11 Steps For Preparing Toddler For New Baby outline what we’ve done in our home to condition the most optimal response in my 2 year old. The main objects of these activities are to get him excited about being a big brother, reassure him that we love him and are proud of him no matter what big changes come our way, and empower him by involving him in the entire process- from pregnancy, birth, and beyond.
11 Steps For Preparing Toddler For New Baby
1) Talk about what is going to happen. OFTEN and in many ways!
I didn’t waste any time after finding out I was pregnant to get my son pumped about the news. He was there with me when I took the pregnancy test and I immediately scooped him up and did a little happy dance.
“You’re going to be a brother!” I sang to him excitedly. And I held him so close and confidently told him, “I know you’re going to be such a good big brother!”
My enthusiasm was quick to rub off on him and he’s been repeating that same line throughout all the months of my pregnancy.
“I’m going to be a big brother!” He tells everyone, including strangers.
We talk about it daily, always on a positive note and with emphasis on his important role as a loving, big brother.
Rocket is a chatterbox and engages very openly in conversation. Depending on age and development, not all toddlers will be as talkative. This should not discourage you from doing your part to talk to them about the impending changes for your family. Far before toddlers are talking, they are listening closely… and understanding.
So what exactly should you be communicating to your toddler?
In Early Pregnancy:
- Tell them the news. Right away! Don’t spring it on them at the last minute. Doing so will only make it harder on them. Don’t avoid healthy conversation and then suddenly shock them by bringing a baby home. If that’s how you go about it, you can go ahead and expect the worst-case scenario reaction from them. It takes time for us parents to adjust to the idea of having a new baby; it’s no different for toddlers. They need time just like we do and deserve the same chance to prepare as the rest of the family.
- Explain what it means to have a baby. You don’t have to describe sex to younger children (follow the cues of older children to determine if it’s an appropriate conversation based on their questions), but explain that the baby is growing in Mom’s uterus and show them visually once the belly bump appears. Some people may find this to be graphic, but I showed my toddler videos of real vaginal births to explain how they go from the womb to the outside world. To me, it’s a beautiful and natural process. He was intrigued by the videos and watching real births invoked many questions in him like “Does she hurt?” and “Is the baby coming out?” I know these videos really helped him to understand exactly what’s going to happen to me. Whether or not this is right for your children will certainly depend on what you are comfortable with as well as how you think they will respond. There is no need to make them anxious if you think they will find real birth videos disturbing.
- Explain that they’re going to be a big brother or big sister. I’ve also shown him videos of other toddlers meeting their new siblings for the first time. I make sure that he knows it will be a big change, but a good one, and I’ll need his big boy help!
- Teach them what babies are like. Don’t paint a false expectation of babies. Sure, they’re cute and smell good. You can tell your toddlers that. But don’t neglect to clue them in on the other side. They cry a lot. They drink breast milk or formula constantly. They sleep all the time. They are weak and can’t lift their heads on their own. We have to be very gentle with them. They can’t talk, play, or walk yet. They can’t even eat food. They need help with everything because they’re too little to do things for themselves. They need moms, dads, and older siblings to help them do everything. Assure them that this changes as they get older.
- Impress upon them that the baby is a part of the family. Rocket loves to list the members of our family, including our dog. He prays for each of us every night. From early on, we have encouraged him to include the new baby as part of this list- and he does!
- Talk about the sex of the baby. We’re not finding out the sex of the baby until he or she is born. Rocket knows that we aren’t sure, but he is convinced that it will be a little girl! We’ll see. If you know what you’re having, let your toddler know if they’re going to have a little brother or a little sister.
- Look at baby pictures & watch baby videos together. Take out old photo albums and show them what they were like as babies. Take it even further back by showing them pictures of Mom & Dad as babies. Do the same with any baby videos you might have. Use this opportunity to discuss with them the aging process and assure them that we were all very helpless once and needed special care from parents (and siblings) who love us!
In Late Pregnancy:
- Prepare them for less Mom time. I’ve made sure to talk to my son regularly about the fact that he will be spending less time with me once the baby is here. Babies need a lot of attention from Mom. I’ve told him that his grandma is going to be at our house often to play with him and that this doesn’t mean I love him any less, just that babies need much more mom time than big boys do! I’ve also explained that this will not last forever and will change as baby grows.
- Talk to them about what to expect on the big day. As my due date got closer, I started bracing him for what to expect when I go into labor. I’ve told him that I will be at home for the beginning of the labor, but that I probably won’t feel very good- just like the moms in the videos we watched. After that, Dad & I will be gone for a while to have the baby with the midwives (whom he knows, as he has come with us to every prenatal appointment), and it will be important for him to be very good for his grandma. It is a good idea to prepare special activities for your child to engage in with their caregiver so that they aren’t too nervous while you’re away. My mom speaks to Rocket solely in Vietnamese, so I’ve checked out several Vietnamese books just for them to read together during this time.
2) Read new baby books.
Reading new baby books with Dad.
He has the best seat in the house!
I’ve found several developmentally appropriate new baby books at the library and we’ve been reading them constantly in the second and third trimester.
I have discovered that not all new baby books seem like a good fit for us. My favorite books are the ones that focus on the changes that come with a new baby in a positive way, or the positive aspects of a sibling relationship.
I’ve found that there are many books that center on sibling jealousy, with the main character feeling resentment towards the baby until the very end when they have a change of heart. If you have already given birth and are seeing your older child display negative feelings toward the new baby, I think this storyline can be great for helping them come to terms with their emotions.
However, I personally do NOT recommend reading books like this during pregnancy or after the baby is born if your child doesn’t react so negatively, as it can just condition them to have those responses even if they otherwise would not have.
New Baby Books That We Love
- This Baby by Kate Banks and Gabi Swiatkowska – One of our favorites and very poetically written!
- Some Babies Sleep by Cynthia Cotten – This is not specially about welcoming a new baby, but it’s all about sleeping babies.
- My Big Brother by Miriam Cohen – A heart-warming story about the relationship between a much older brother and his family.
- Baby Food by Margaret Miller – A simple board book made for babies with lots of pictures of babies. Great fuel for baby talk.
- You and Me by Rachel Fuller- One of my favorite new baby books!
- I Kissed the Baby! by Mary Murphy- A cute board book about kissing baby.
- A Friend for Minerva Louise by Janet Morgan Stoeke – A silly book about a new baby coming home and Minerva the chicken thinking it’s a new rabbit. There is always a place for humor!
- Daddy’s Lullaby by Tony Bradman – I think this might be Rocket’s favorite book right now. It depicts Dad, Mom, older brother, new baby, and the family pet.
- Baby, Come Out! by Fran Manushkin – Baby refuses to leave the womb and is coaxed into coming out by the family. Illustrations offer a helpful visual of baby in the womb.
- Daddy and Me by Catherine Daly-Weir – Because he will be spending more time with Dad while I’m tending to the new baby, I made sure to get books like this that focus on father-son relationships.
- I’m A Big Brother by Joanna Cole – This book is not pictured above and will be given to Rocket after the baby is born in his big brother kit.
- The New Baby at Your House by Joanna Cole – This book is not pictured above and will be given to Rocket after the baby is born in his big brother kit.
- Big Brothers Are the Best by Fran Manushkin – This book is not pictured above and will be given to Rocket after the baby is born in his big brother kit.
New Baby Books With Jealousy As The Theme
I will also list the books I’ve come across with the jealousy theme, as I do think they could potentially be a good resource if the toddler is already behaving with resentment towards the new baby. We have not read any of these together and I won’t be sharing them with Rocket unless he has a problem with jealousy (which is not an uncommon response in the adjustment period).
- Love The Baby by Steven L. Layne
- The Trouble with Baby by Marisabina Russo
- Will It Be a Baby Brother? by Eve Bunting
- Benny and Beautiful Baby Delilah by Jean Van Leeuwen
- Hi New Baby! by Robie H. Harris
If you know of any other great books for preparing toddler for new baby, please comment below on this post to share!
3) Involve your toddler in your pregnancy and in preparation for the new baby.
Your toddler needs to know that having a new baby does NOT mean he or she will be neglected or ignored. This reassurance begins in pregnancy by making sure your little one is a part of the experience, not just standing uselessly on the sideline.
When children are hands-on involved, they feel like the change is happening “with” them rather than opposed “to” them.
Here are some of the things you can do for involving and preparing toddler for new baby throughout the pregnancy:
- Go to prenatal appointments together to hear the heartbeat. My 2 year old gets so excited to hear the baby’s heartbeat every time! He knows our midwives and even has friends at the front desk (one of those friends, DeeDee, gave him his original blue guitar). It has been such a family-bonding experience to visit with my midwives together every time.
- Connect your toddler to the activity in your belly. Feeling the baby kick makes the whole thing a lot more real for us parents, doesn’t it? The same is true for toddlers. Rocket knows he has to be careful around my stomach and I encourage him to touch it, urge him to talk to the baby (reminding him that the baby can hear what we’re saying already), and I’m quick to call him over and place his hand on my belly when I feel a distinct body part or movements. He is so interested in the action in my belly that he holds this sound machine up to it to allow the baby to hear the soothing sounds (specifically the heartbeat setting):
- Brainstorm baby names together. Ask for your toddler’s opinion on names. You might get some silly ones!
- Decorate the baby’s room and put away baby clothes together. We co-sleep and don’t have a nursery, but if we did this would totally have been on our list! Rocket did help with putting away baby clothes as I wrote about in our zipper and clothing theme.
- Pack a hospital bag. This is another great baby prep activity we did together during our zipper and clothing theme.
- Encourage a helping hand when Mom is feeling… pregnant. When my husband massages me, Rocket joins him. When I say I’m thirsty, he brings me a water bottle. When I say I’m hungry, he grabs me snacks. The other day when I had a bout of painful Braxton Hicks contractions and my husband ran a bath for me, he came in and used a cup to pour warm water onto my belly (copying what Dad was doing). He is a big helper and has taken it upon himself to take care of Mom!
- Doing pregnancy exercises with Mom. There are a variety of pregnancy exercises that help prepare for childbirth. My baby also is apparently in a posterior position, so I have been doing special exercises in an effort to rotate him/her. Rocket loves doing these exercises with me! His favorites are squats and playing cats & dogs (walking around on my hands & knees encourages baby to turn).
4) ROLE-PLAY the important jobs of a big brother/big sister.
Children learn best through imaginative play. Dolls and stuffed animals are perfect props for emulating that brotherly/sisterly duty of handling and caring for a little baby.
We have role-played with each other and with stuffed animals to practice:
- Burping a baby.
We take turns burping each other. Rocket pats Dad on the back until Dad lets out a pretend burp. Then Dad does the same for Rocket. We all crack up laughing every time we hear the pretend burp!
- Walking a baby in a stroller.
Pushing Baby Bear around in the stroller.
- Diapering a baby.
This isn’t something Rocket will really be doing for the newborn, but it’s fun imaginative play nonetheless!
- Holding a baby.
Rocking Baby Bear in his arms.
- Being gentle with a baby.
As he gives Baby Bear a kiss, I point out sensitive areas like the soft spot on the head, eyes, nose, mouth, etc.
- Feeding a baby.
Giving Baby Bear a taste of his applesauce.
- Reading to a baby.
Reading My Big Brother by Miriam Cohen to Baby Bear.
Rocket has been getting so into his role-play that he brings Baby Bear all around the house with him. We also practice playing quietly when Baby Bear is “asleep.”
Here he was playing with his Lego farm set after perching Baby Bear up to sit and watch him:
“Are you watching, Baby Bear?” He asked.
Of course, role-play can get quite creative.
“Okay, you can put Baby Bear on the ATV, but just remember that’s not something we do when the real baby gets here!”
5) Expose toddler to other babies by visiting friends with newborns.
Saying hello to my friend’s new baby.
If you can, bring your toddler around other babies- those of friends and family- so that he/she can see firsthand what babies are like. Use these moments to discuss how tiny and helpless they are and why it’s so important to be gentle and loving around them.
6) Emphasize the older sibling’s important role as a BIG HELPER.
My sister sent Rocket this big brother ribbon. He wears it proudly!
Rocket relishes his role as a helper around the house. In general, toddlers love to please their parents and thrive on positive reinforcement for a job well done. We have really built up how special big brothers are in helping out with baby.
We want him to feel like it’s a big deal to us when he helps us out – AND IT REALLY IS! It will be genuinely nice to have someone bringing me diapers when I’m in the middle of nursing and healing from the birth.
Shower toddlers with positive reinforcement every time they help with baby preparations and continue doing so after the baby is born.
We also made a big deal about moving his car seat from the middle of the back seat to the window seat, assuring him that the new spot is where big boys sit to keep an eye on the baby. At first, I was afraid he wouldn’t like it. But he does! He keeps pointing at the infant car seat in the middle and saying, “That’s where babies sit, but I’m a big boy now!” Not to mention, he loves the window view.
7) Set aside 1 on 1 time with Mom and Dad.
With all the attention on our newborn, it will be crucial for us to set aside special time to spend with our son. My husband will be taking him on special “dates” so he can have focused time with a parent. While it won’t be as easy for me to leave the baby at first, I will also make an effort to spend quality time with him during baby’s nap times.
We have worked on helping him understand that he will have more “dad time” once the baby gets here. My husband now gets Rocket to sleep, which used to be done primarily by me. He has adjusted well to that and I think all the extra dad time will make up for the decreased mom time!
Having special time with both parents will reduce any natural anger and resentment toddlers may feel towards the baby.
8) Prepare a special gift for the older sibling.
Relatives and friends may send a lot of gifts to the new baby, so it’s nice to think of something special to give the older sibling too.
Personally, I believe it’s best to make that gift relevant to the new baby’s coming rather than a complete distraction. It should be something “special”, not just another light-up electronic busy toy.
When we bring baby home, Rocket will be presented with this special big brother kit I’ve made him. I can’t wait for him to play with its contents!
If Rocket visits at the hospital (this will depend on the time the baby is born and whether or not he is asleep when my husband comes home), he will get a blue guitar-shaped flyswatter. This is an old favorite toy of his, but it’s been lost for quite some time. I think this will be the 3rd time we’ve replaced it! What better way to receive it than by meeting the new baby?
9) Prepare a special gift together for the baby.
Baby ribbon tab blanket.
Rocket, my mom, and I worked together to make this ribbon tab blanket for the baby. Rocket chose the fabrics and I did the sewing.
When he first meets the baby, he will have this blanket with him. He knows it’s for the baby and I think it will feel very special for him to be the one to give it to the newborn!
He will also be giving the baby the sound machine that he’s placed on my stomach throughout this pregnancy. I think it will be a beautiful thing, because the baby will recognize the sounds that have been played for him/her by Big Brother Rocket!
You don’t have to work on a big sewing project to make something like this happen. Go to the store with your toddler and help them pick out a gift for the baby. It will be a big deal for them to help you find a special gift for their new sibling!
10. Include toddlers in the care of the newborn.
After we got a gift certificate to a bookstore, Rocket chose this book to read to the baby. We have been reading it regularly at night, memorizing all the lullabies so that we’re ready to sing baby to sleep!
Once the baby is home, toddlers should be allowed to help out in any way they can. This will promote a healthy adjustment for them and ensure that they don’t feel left out.
Kids love to help! Allowing them to do so (and giving them positive reinforcement when they do) will turn a confusing time into a very positive experience for them. It gives them a chance to interact with the baby is a useful and positive way.
They can help by bringing items you need, singing to the baby, burping the baby, assisting you in getting the baby dressed, talking to the baby, pushing the stroller, entertaining the baby with silly faces, etc.
11. Discuss feelings and emotions after the baby is born.
This list of steps for preparing toddler for new baby began with the importance of communication during pregnancy.
It can only end with the importance of communication after the baby is born.
I can’t stress this enough- communicate with your child!
During the adjustment period, I will make sure Rocket knows that this is all very new for us too. We are learning together as a family. By being open with him about my feelings and emotions, I hope to inspire him to talk about his. I want to make a concentrated effort to be empathetic of his feelings as we acclimate to these changes.
It can be natural for older siblings to regress in behavior after a new baby is born, which is exactly why I haven’t pushed potty training. It is so important to be compassionate with our children if they act up or misbehave for attention during this time. It probably means that they need more one on one time with a parent.
Encourage them to talk about how they’re feeling and if they can’t articulate their emotions, engage them in conversation on your part. Let them know that you understand how they’re feeling and that you are there for them every step of the way.
I am eager to get to know my new baby and also determined to continue being the best mom that I can be for my firstborn. I am ready to see this beautiful sibling relationship unfold and do everything in my power (and in my attitude) to make it as smooth a transition as possible for everyone!