No matter how prepared you might be for a new baby to join your household, your firstborn has absolutely no idea how much their world is about to change. The transition from only child to big sibling can be tough for your toddler or preschooler, but you can help make the experience smoother by preparing them well ahead of the baby’s arrival. Try to head off any feelings of sibling jealousy or resentment with these tips and games to help little ones understand why babies need so much special attention and care.
Manage expectations: While your big kid might be excited for a new playmate to join the family, you’ll likely have to paint a more realistic picture of what life with a newborn baby will be like. Let them know that for the first few months, babies don’t do much more than eat, sleep, cry, and dirty their diapers. This doesn’t mean there aren’t cute ways for your big kid to interact with their new sibling though! Babies love looking at faces, so your toddler can get ready to sing or dance for the little one, or offer up their fingers for a tiny squeeze.
Visit a friend who has a baby: One of the best ways to help your big kid understand what’s coming is to have them meet a friend’s baby while you’re still pregnant. For younger toddlers especially, it can be really hard for them to properly grasp what their life will be like once there’s an actual baby inside their home, and not just growing inside their mama. After the visit, you can explain that soon your family will have a newborn just like the one you met, so that they can start imagining how their family might change.
Look at photos and videos of your toddler as a baby: As adults, we know that babies don’t stay babies forever – but for your toddler, this can be a tricky concept to understand. A great way to explain this to them is to show them photos and videos of themselves when they were a baby. This helps them understand that while they used to be totally dependent on their mom and dad (just like their baby sibling will be), they eventually grew up to be the big kid they are now.
Start teaching your toddler how to wait: The top thing your toddler will need to have when the new baby arrives? Patience! If your big kid is used to you always being at their beck and call, they’ll find it even harder to wait their turn for your attention once the baby’s born. To prep, try having your child progressively wait for longer periods of time when they ask you to do something for them. If they can get used to having to wait sometimes, they’re less likely to resent the baby when they don’t immediately get poured another cup of milk as soon as they ask for it.
Make a list of quiet time activities: Your big kid might hate going down for naptime, but they’ll soon learn that infants actually need to nap for most of the day. Explain to your toddler that growing big and strong is hard work, and that little babies need to eat and sleep a lot so that they can become a big kid, too. To help keep your tot quiet during baby’s naptime, try creating a list of activities they can do while the little one sleeps, such as colouring, reading books together, or working on a puzzle.
Practice being a “big sibling helper”: From fetching diapers and pacifiers, to singing and dancing for a crying babe, there are so many ways for your toddler to take on a “big sibling helper” role. Try doing some practice runs with a doll as a stand-in, and encourage your big kid to help out as much as they’d like – although remind them that some tasks, such as rocking and feeding, will only be performed by the grown-ups.
Model being gentle: Toddlers aren’t always gentle by nature, so it’s important to teach them how to be careful with their new baby sibling. You can help them practice this skill with a doll, having them hold it on their lap and stroking it softly, like they’ll soon be able to do with their new baby. Remember to point out the areas that your big kid will need to be especially careful with, like the baby’s eyes, nose, ears, and mouth, as well as the soft spot on their head.