One of the most enjoyable parts of pregnancy for me has been preparing my children for their new sibling. It is so fun to hear what they say, find out what questions they have, and watch the anticipation grow!
In this instalment of my series Tips for Families Expecting a New Baby, I will be sharing ways I have helped prepare my children for a new baby in the house. My children have ranged from ages 21 months to six years old (during two different pregnancies) while we enjoyed the activities listed below.
15+ Ways to Prepare Young Children for a New Baby
1. Look through your child’s baby photos together and let them see what they looked like when they were a baby. Share stories about what they did all day (sleep, feed, “play”) and what they could do as they grew older (eventually roll over, crawl, eat soft foods, etc). Be sure to ask your child if they have any questions.
2. Share parts of articles or watch videos about how the baby is developing while they are inside the uterus. My sons love to hear the practical facts each week about how the baby is now swallowing, able to hear, or able to suck his/her thumb. They also like to see the measurements of how big the baby is each month… we usually get out the ruler so they can see how long the baby would be stretched out.
3. Read books written especially for “big brothers” or “big sisters” (here is a list of my favourites). These usually cover topics such as how babies are born, how babies sleep and nurse a lot at the beginning, how to treat babies gently, etc.
4. Let your child accompany you to at least one appointment so they can see how the doctor/midwife is checking on the baby. Showing them the ultrasound scans or letting them listen to the baby’s heartbeat on the doppler can also be lots of fun.
5. Draw a family picture including the new baby and display it somewhere in the house. My oldest son (now 6 years old) also wrote a letter to our baby and pasted on pictures from her ultrasound scan. We always refer to the baby as part of our family now… so that the boys even say “I love you baby” while we say our night time I Love You’s.
6. Role play with a baby carrier and dolls, or a family of smaller dollhouse dolls, to show your child what it might be like with a new baby in the house. This offers lots of opportunities to talk about what babies need and how to treat them. Many families like to give young children a baby doll if they do not have one already so they can “practice” caring for their new sibling.
7. Let your children explore the baby toys. This gives you a chance to talk about what babies do when they are awake (sometimes lie awake for a while and look around, eventually mouth things, and they will later on learn to sit up on their own, etc). My kids loved going through all the toys and asking what the baby would do with them.
8. Set up the baby changing area and give your child a stool so they can see while you role play how to change the baby’s nappy. Of course let them try, if they want to!
9. Prepare the baby’s sleeping area and show your child how it will be used with a baby doll. You may like to pretend the baby is sleeping and tip toe away so you can play somewhere else.
10. Let your child wash a baby doll in the baby bath, being careful not to get water in the doll’s face, being gentle holding the head out of the water, etc. Then your child can dry and dress the baby doll. Kate from Laughing Kids Learn shares some tips about preparing for this type of play experience in this post.
11. Sort and wash the baby clothes together, showing your child how the baby will grow every few months and wear bigger clothes. Your child may even like to try on the baby clothes. You may like to offer them an appropriate sized doll or stuffed toy to try the clothes on.
12. Show your child how you will be carrying the baby (in a baby carrier and/or stroller). I remember when I did this with my oldest son (2 years old at the time) he started crying and said, “No, you can’t hold baby, you have to hold me!” But when I showed him how holding the baby in the carrier would allow me to use my hands and still play with him, he became more comfortable the idea. I was so glad we talked about this beforehand so he had a little more mental preparation for how the baby would be with us all the time and how I would be attending to him, etc. I also got my son his own little baby carrier and stroller that he could role play with.
13. Set up the living area with baby gear (baby bouncer, nursing chair, etc) to show your child how the baby will be with the family during the day, and talk a bit about being gentle and playing carefully while the baby is nearby.
14. Invite others to get involved – daddy, grandparents, teachers, and other loved adults – in talking about the baby being born and what it may be like.
15. Let your child see, hold and/or cuddle another newborn baby, if you have a friend who has given birth recently. Giving young children a chance to see what their new sibling will look like (which may be different to how they imagine “baby” in their mind) is great preparation for the reality to come.
16. Explain what will happen when you go to the hospital using pictures, dolls, and/or role play. Tell your children who will be caring for them during this time and what they will be doing those days, if at all possible. I got a few new DVDs which grandma will let the boys watch when I’m staying in the hospital, which they know about and are excited for. Make sure the kids know that you will be coming back, and that you are going to the hospital so the doctors can be sure the birth goes well (not because you are sick), so they don’t get too worried or upset!
17. Invite the kids to make a card (and purchase a gift, if you wish) to give the baby on their birthday. Some families also like to give the older siblings a gift, to celebrate becoming a “big brother” or “big sister.” We gave our oldest son a kid’s camera which was lovely – it was so neat to see what he took pictures of those first few weeks (baby feet, baby toys, and more!).
18. Spend lots of time cuddling and letting your child ask questions about the baby, feel the kicks, and touch your belly if they want to. Depending on the age of your child, of course, they will want to talk about different subjects.
This may seem like a lot of activities, but 9 months offers a lot of time to do just a couple every few weeks!
I am sure the adjustment period will still be challenging for my children once the baby is actually in the picture, but I feel these activities and discussions have at least prepared us a bit for what is to come. Engaging in conversations about the baby has definitely helped the kids bond with their new sibling, and also given them plenty of opportunities to express their feelings and concerns about the changes to come.
What tips do you have about preparing young children for a new baby?
This post is part of my series Tips for Families Expecting a New Baby. For more ideas about getting yourself and your family ready for your new bundle of joy, check it out.