Preparing your child for the arrival of a sibling

By steadily preparing your child for your newborn's arrival, you can help alleviate any fears and let your child share in your excitement.

During pregnancy 

The way you explain to a child that a new baby is on the way is a personal choice. The amount of detail a child is able to understand, of course, will depend on age and development. When to tell a child about the pregnancy is also an individual issue: some parents, for example, announce the news to children right from the start, while others cautiously wait until after the first trimester.
 
Answers to a child's curious questions about the mechanics of pregnancy are also linked to a child's level of development. For very young children, the idea of a 9-month wait for a sister or brother may be difficult to comprehend. Most pre-schoolers have yet to grasp the concept of time. To make the waiting period more understandable to young children, link the arrival of a newborn with a season rather than a month.  
 
Your child's age and development should be considered when sharing other information about the future event. Your best bet is to take your cues from your child. If your child shows an interest in learning more about newborns, examining pictures of him or herself when he/she was a baby, reading books, or visiting friends with infants can help with adjustment to the upcoming event. Children may also want to accompany you on a visit to the doctor to hear the baby's heartbeat, help you pack your bag for the hospital, or think of potential baby names.
 
It can be also useful to talk to your child about what he or she expects the baby to be able to do, as children often feel that a new baby will be an instant playmate, and the fact that they sleep most of the time can be a huge disappointment.
 

Birth day and the hospital 

Because babies don't arrive according to timetables, experts encourage you to make sure your child knows beforehand who will take care of him or her once you leave for the hospital. Knowing that it will be a grandfather, aunt or neighbour is a comfort, particularly to a child who might wake in the middle of the night crying for his or her parents. You should also let your child know whether you plan to wake him or her when you leave for the hospital.
 
After the baby is born, make sure your older child visits as soon as possible, preferably when no other visitors are there. It helps to have on hand a special gift for the older child from the baby when he or she walks into the room. Some families even order a birthday cake to celebrate the baby's arrival and to help the older child understand why the baby is getting so many gifts.
 
Besides visiting the hospital and keeping in touch via phone with mum, it may be best to change your child's routine as little as possible. If you plan to make any room shifts to accommodate the baby at home, do it a few weeks before the baby's arrival to minimise extra confusion.
 
Potty training or moving a child from a cot to a bed should also be implemented well in advance of the baby's arrival or put off until the newborn and your older child have adjusted to life under the same roof.
 

Life at home 

Depending on age, development and willingness, even a young child can help with the baby. The pride of accomplishment and goodwill toward the newcomer is well worth the extra time it may take for you to complete a task with a young child's help. Young children can fold or fetch nappies, help dress the baby, help burp the baby, assist with the baby's bath, help push the carriage or rock the cradle, or smile, talk, sing or dance for the baby. On the other hand, if your child wants to ignore the baby, don't force him or her to get involved.
 
While your baby is asleep, spend some time with your older child. At night, assign an adult to each child, so that at least once a day your older child gets one parent's undivided attention. You should also remind relatives and friends not to neglect your older child. Remind them that he or she likes to discuss topics other than what it's like to have a baby sister, for example.
 
Parents should also be aware that it's perfectly normal for a child to sometimes regress in behaviour for a few weeks, reverting to bedwetting, whining, speaking in baby talk or even crying instead of talking, for example. An older child may also have temper tantrums or want to breastfeed or have a bottle in order to get his or her parents' attention. As long as the behaviour doesn't go on too long, the best route is to humour your child through this stage and offer reminders of all the things he or she can do that the baby can't.
 
Children can also experience strong feelings of anger and frustration about the changes in their lives since the arrival of a baby. If a child communicates verbally, helping him or her to talk about feelings and setting limits on those feelings can help child her see that, while feelings are important, they have to be expressed in appropriate ways. In other words, drawing a family picture without the newest member is fine, but yelling at Mummy, Daddy, or the baby is not.
 
Even if your child is well prepared for the newcomer, be aware that mixed emotions may remain. Your honest and straightforward approach to the new baby with your older child will help to calm fears, and let your child know that he or she is as worthy of attention as the new baby.