Ask Design Mom: Preparing Siblings for New Baby

We are expecting our second child in November. I am curious to know how you prepared your children for the birth of each new sibling. Our son will be three and a half when the baby arrives, and I am looking for unique ideas in getting him excited for his new brother or sister. Thanks Design Mom! — Dena

Congratulations, Dena! It’s hard to predict how any child will react to a new sibling, but one thing that worked well for us, is having our kids participate in naming discussions. Even if we didn’t love their ideas, we would add them to our list and make sure the kids knew they were being heard. A cute twist on this, one family I know let’s the kids give the growing baby a silly name to be called during the pregnancy.

What about you, Dear Readers? How have you prepared your child (or children) for a new sibling?

P.S. — You can see how my children welcomed Baby June home here.

45 thoughts on “Ask Design Mom: Preparing Siblings for New Baby”

  1. We talked to our oldest (3 at the time of delivery) a lot about how much the baby would cry, cry, cry and how that was okay because that was his way of telling us what he needed. We also repeated how much the baby would need mommy and told him ways he could help mommy and the baby. To this day, if you ask Will what a baby does he repeats “cry, eat, sleep.”

  2. One good piece of advice that my OB gave me when I was pregnant with my second was to always refer to the baby, when speaking with my three year old daughter, as “our” baby. Not mine and daddy’s but all of ours. This gave her a sense of ownership over the situation, that she was really part of it and was gaining something instead of being in a competition.

    And it really worked. She has been a stellar sister and the jealousy or hurt feelings (being left out by all the baby business) has been really, really minimal. (The baby is six months old now)

    1. I did this, too–told my then-toddler that WE ALL were having a baby–and she was so happy about it. When you think about it, all three of us *were* having a baby. God willing (and I pray He is), my little girl will be stuck with her pesky brother longer than she’ll have us.
      My daughter was rarely jealous, too. I think part of that is because he was also her baby.

    2. I used to take my girls with me to all the OB appointments that didn’t involve me being undressed in any way. My doctor would talk to them about “their” baby’s heartbeat and how big “their” baby was getting. I loved it.

      However, I will say that some kids just adapt better to a new baby. My oldest was 18 months old when her sister came along, and she did great. My second daughter was nearly 4 when #3 was born, and her poor life was turned upside down. Within three months, we moved, my husband started a medical residency, my oldest went to kindergarten, and we had a new baby. It took MONTHS for #2 to feel like she had life under control again. If I could live those months over again, I would try to be so much more patient and understanding with her sweet little self. So that’s the advice I give to second (or third) time parents.

  3. I don’t have children yet(!) but have many friends who have gone through the new baby with older sibling time and I’ve discovered that children’s books are a really great way to help excite without making a huge deal of possible issues. My go to favorites for gifts are: A Baby Sister for Frances by the Hobans, Sheila Rae’s Peppermint Stick by Kevin Henkes, and ones I just discovered are 101 Things to Do with a Baby by Jan Ormerod, Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson, and There’s Going to be a Baby by John Burningham. I’m a passionate collector of children’s books and a lot of big topics can be cleverly and funnily discussed through the amazing world of picture books. Hope that is helpful even if I’m not there yet myself!

  4. I have a friend with children 18 months apart. She shared an idea with me that I think is genius, and would probably work for toddlers and preschoolers. She picked milestone that the baby would soon be reaching (such as smiling on her own) and then asked the older child if she would teach her little sister how to do that thing. Of course, the baby learned how to do each thing, and the big sister was so proud of herself and felt like she had made a great contribution to helping her baby sister.

    1. We do this too – it really works to emblazon the older sibling with pride!!! We also tell our kids they are the secret spies and must tell their mom as soon as the baby needs her… They are so watchful and with a purpose, when the baby does cry they are so quick to call rather than be mad because the baby is crying again.

  5. A few months before my second child was due, almost three years old big sister received a La Newborn baby of her own. She learned the right way to hold her baby and care for it. When her brother came home she was ready. She fed, bathed, and diapered her baby right along with me. It worked beautifully!

    Twenty three years later she gave her own almost three years old little guy and baby of his own when his baby sister came home.

    A little hint: Choose a realistic baby and the layette. My grandson’s baby was an anatomically correct boy and the layette included reusable diapers and coordinating clothing from the same lines the new baby wore, but in premmie sizes. He had his own diaper bag with extra clothes and 2 ounce sample bottles from the hospital.

    A baby all their own really works!

  6. fun ideas! We’ve always had the new baby “give” a gift to the older siblings when coming home from the hospital (new baby doll, pirate ship for toddler brother, jewelry box for older girl)–something to keep them occupied/relieve jealousy with all the baby’s gifts and attention.

  7. Like Anita, we had a gift from the baby for his brother and gave it to him when he visited his new brother in the hospital. There’s a five year age difference between our oldest and youngest so we were able to have fairly in-depth discussions about the coming baby. We explained that sometimes babies cry — a lot — and that it may be a while before they can really play. We also told our eldest that babies need lots of love and patience. We were fortunate to have an easy transition. Our eldest loves his little brother to bits and little brother thinks his big brother is the cat’s meow!

  8. The absolute *best* advice received came from our older son’s pediatrician when my husband jokingly asked for last-minute advice. My boys are almost 3 years apart and I truly believe this approach played a huge role in their awesome friendship…

    The advice? Babies cry. We’re not-quite-as-worrisome the second time around… So be sure to let the older sibling hear you tell the baby to wait… So they don’t feel like they have been pushed aside and are always being told to wait. Obviously dont overdue it =). When appropriate I would say to the little one things like, “I will be there in just a minute, I’m reading to your big brother…” I also explained to my oldest that I can’t always tell the little one to wait…

    There are so many wonderful ideas in these comments!! So happy for you and the exciting arrival of your second child!!

  9. I spoke with an older mom who had 7 children about this subject. She said that a few weeks before she would have a baby, she would take her youngest to the toy store and she would buy them a baby, whether her youngest was a boy or girl. This toy baby was their own baby to have and then Mommy would have her baby too. So together, they would change their baby’s diapers and feed their babies. She said it helped her youngest understand how much a baby needs and that they can help too. It’s also a great opportunity for little girls and boys to learn about being parents.

  10. A friend of mine has had her children participate in all the baby’s firsts–all the kids help out with baby’s first bath, help choose outfits, etc. It makes them feel special and important while giving them a chance to bond with the new baby.

  11. We just had our third. We talked a lot about the baby before birth. His size, his sleeping at eating habits etc. My oldest was so excited to have a brother to play with. We had to explain that that babe would not be able to do a lot of things and that we would need the older kids help to teach the baby how to smile, walk, talk, etc. When they came to the hospital to meet baby my oldest, said hi to him, then while laughing said, “babies can’t talk.” I guess he thought that was funny. Both kids transitioned great and love baby.

  12. There are lots of great books about having a baby brother or sister- we read those to our kids. I think a lot depends on the age of the child when the baby arrives. Our daughter was only 22 months when our son came home- she didn’t really get it, nor did she notice much. When #3 arrived just a few weeks ago, our son was only 27 months, and again- didn’t care much. He’s noticing her more now that she is sticking around and not a toy passing through, but his challenges have been more related to the fact that we can’t give him the same 1-on-1 time we used to, not necessarily that there’s a new person in the house.

  13. I have two boys (3 and 9mos) and am expecting again, due early Feb (gender TBD). We used a lot of the same ‘techniques’ listed above. We always, always referred to the baby as “our baby” while I was pregnant and for a while after. I kept my older son as involved as possible – even brought him to some doctor appointments (he lied next to me once during an ultrasound which will be a neat story to tell both of them!). Once we new what we were going to name our second son, we referred to him by name. I have videos of my older boy talking to my belly, he’d kiss his little brother goodnight. We tried dolls but he really took to caring for other toys, like tucking in his trucks and “reading” them stories. Once the baby was born, we really made an effort to keep certain things the same as best possible. Like our bedtime routine involves 10 minutes or so after stories where one of us cuddles with our bigger boy. Usually I’m on my own with them but I make it work. The younger one cries more and settles easier than our firstborn ever did. He’s happier and more easygoing too – so who knows if that’s what helps or what results. My older son helps “teach” and “watch” and “bathe” and “feed” etc. as often as he’s interested. We stress the importance of being a bigger sibling but also allow him to still be a baby too. He sometimes likes to be held like a baby or fed like a baby and where we can, we oblige. He’s really good with his brother, and the little one just adores his every move. The best thing I can think to share is just pay attention to how well you know your older child, what they need and how they respond or tend to process things – work with that and trust your instincts. Congrats and best wishes!

  14. By far the happiest moment of my life it when our 4 year old climbed into my hospital bed to meet and admire “Tiny” for the first time.

    The silly/special name thing is fun for kids and the extended family, like grandparents and aunts & uncles, as well. Our first was called “Little Guy” by everyone before being born and our 2nd was “Tiny.” His big brother coined that name when we explained that the baby was growing “from a tiny seed inside Mama’s body.”

  15. Two things we did – when practicing animals sounds (a cow says moo, etc) we taught her babies say wah wah. I don’t know if it sunk in at first, but when the baby cries now our daughter says, “Babies say wah wah, cows say moo, ducks say quack,” etc. It’s funny and gives her something to do while I’m handling crying baby.

    Second was advice we received from a couple of different sources. When older daughter came to the hospital to meet us I wasn’t in the bed holding our youngest. I was dressed and sitting in the chair by myself so I she didn’t think I was sick or hurt (although I love Gabrielle’s getting to go home and introduce June to everyone at home). We kind of let her “discover” the baby. She came over and hugged me for about five minutes, then she “found” the baby in the bassinet. Someone else told us (afterwards) that they sent the newborn to the nursery right before the other child arrived and after having a reunion with their older child they went to the nursery window and “chose” the new baby together – hahaha.

    Hmm, I just reread and you aren’t really looking for transition advice, just getting older sib ready and excited. We did the reading stories and gave her a doll at the hospital. We also sat up a play crib/swing/changing area/high chair when daddy was putting stuff together for younger daughter. She also made some art for her younger sister’s room.

    Congratulations! It will be wonderful!

  16. Oh my, this is the most timely question. I was going to write in with the same exact question because I’ve had some anxiety over it as well. Little birdie #2 is on its way in late October and I’m afraid that Wren will try to kill it…

    Such great pearls of wisdom here. I will keep checking back for more.

  17. My son was great when his little sister was born – but now she’s about ready to crawl and he wiggs out every time she touches his “things.”
    Adapting to the small immobile crying baby was much easier than the mobile, drooling, babbling person who wants to eat all of his toys.

    1. We’re getting into this a little bit. I’ve been trying to play with both my girls (18.5 months apart) and the toys and that seems to help. When I’m not playing with them, my older one has been more willing to share. Not always though!

  18. We also had a freshly-three-year-old when our second child arrived. We talked about ‘our’ baby. I pointed out other children about her age who had a baby sibling to get her excited. It helped that her cousin, who is three weeks older than she is, had a new brother arrive only six months before hers. So it was a natural family progression for her to ‘get her baby brother too.’ We talked about all of the things she knows how to do that a baby wouldn’t know that she could help teach him.
    She was also present when her brother was born. I know this idea might be a little much to some who think of birth as this bloody, violent, scream-inducing thing, but it doesn’t have to be, and having her there helped me keep my cool. And now she knows where babies come from because she’s seen it.
    One thing I wish I had done differently was in handling the choking hazard clean-up. She was finally at the age where she was old enough to have toys with small parts, so I told her she had to make sure never to leave small toys out because George might eat them. Apparently this left her with the impression that this baby was going to be a ravenous toy-ingesting machine. I wish I had emphasized that the toys could hurt her brother, rather than the other way around!!
    My favorite moment while pregnant with my second was when, testing my daughter, I said to her, “What am I thinking, we don’t need another baby, we have you.” Her response floored me, “But mommy! He’s our BABY! We have to keep him and love him FOREVER!”

  19. My middle child was six when her baby sister was born. She had nothing but love for her, but boy did she give us a hard time. She wouldn’t speak to the visitors that came to see her sister. She locked the doors if one of us went outside to fetch something. She would call someone up from the basement or down from the second floor saying that the other needed them immediately–only to find out that the other parent did not call. She did dangerous things too for attention, like trying to stand on the handlebars of her bicycle or climbing onto the roof of the car. The danger seeking behaviors ended after about three months. The need for non-stop attention from my husband has not ended–it’s been four years! As a mom, I find this behavior very tiring and it has effected my relationship with her– and with my husband because I feel he dismisses much of her behavior. I suppose the security she seeks is beyond human measure. Thank goodness my husband is far more patient and giving. He refers to her non-stop need for attention as pester-power. However, she is a very kind and patient sister. She has great love for her little sis and is always thinking of her. I’m happy about that.

  20. We didn’t make a big deal as younger siblings were born. My husband’s son was 6 when our first daughter was born and 8 when the second came along. There never seemed to be any real jealousy or insecurity going on… I like to think that because we didn’t look for it, it didn’t show up.

  21. This post made me go back and see all of the posts around and after June’s birth – the portraits, the homecoming, the birth story, her eating solid food … everything! Can’t believe she’s almost 15 months already :) And mine almost 5

  22. I had my older daughter make her baby sister a book – I bought all of the components at the craft store so there were lots of fun things to glue, color, etc. And I had her ‘introduce’ each family member and tell about them on each page, there was a page for the babies room, and how she would be born etc. I wrote it all as my daughter told it then when she visited at the hospital she read it to her sister.

    We also focus on all the things she can do and the baby can’t do when she gets frustrated about food, or a toy, etc.

  23. My daughters are 18.5 months apart. The oldest one, Holly, just turned 2. I made sure that I wasn’t holding the baby, Greta, at the hospital when Holly came in. And then she got to hold Greta with me. I also gave Holly a doll.

    Now, I make sure to tell Holly that Greta loves her as much as possible and point out when Greta is smiling or laughing at Holly. Holly adores Greta and has always been really sweet and kind to her. I think the biggest thing is that if Holly knows Greta loves her than Holly will love Greta. And Greta really does love Holly, she just can’t express it!

  24. Our local hospital had a special “big brother/sister” class that my two older children attended. They learned all about the crying, how to hold a baby, to be careful of the face and soft spot on the head, what to expect in general. It was very empowering for them. They received pins that said ” I’m going to be a big brother!” that they proudly wore, certificates to hang on the wall and a little goodie bag.
    We also had them talk to my belly often. It was amazing when they came to the hospital to visit for the first time, the baby heard their voices and turned his head to find them. Loved it. It helped all of them to understand that this tiny baby knew them already.

  25. I have a three year old and a six month old. I was so nervous how my oldest would react. I tried to really prep her. We talked about it non-stop, this baby became HER baby too, we talked about what she got to do to help the baby when he came, we read books, got toys for her to play with only while I nursed, she brought a gift for him to the hospital and he “gave” one to her also (which she still talks about), and I have had to just make sure that I get a little bit of alone time with her–and make it special, so that she knows she isn’t on the back burner.

  26. My kids are also 3 1/2 years apart. I spent the pregnancy telling my son that his new brother would look up to him and that he needed to watch over him. I gave him the task of showing him how to play, crawl, walk. I said all he needed to do was to demonstrate. I told him Little bro would always want to do what ‘bubba’ was doing. He also helped pick the name we used. I said he’d have a friend for life. It worked. My youngest always wants to be like his brother, but is happily, his own man. He learned to crawl and walk quickly because he’d want to go after his big brother. When he learned each new milestone, we’d tell the oldest, “See, he learned from watching you!”. I wanted them to be close and they always have been. They’re now 10 & 13.

  27. My oldest just turned 5 and I am expecting my 5th in a few months. I always made them involved in the process.

    So when the baby was the size of a grapefruit – I showed them one.
    When the baby was the size of a kiwi same thing.

    When the baby finally comes we will all together find something that weighs the same as baby. The kids also make the new baby a book all about our life.

    So when #2, #3, #4 all came they got a handmade book about what we do and what we like and how to be the perfect family addition. We are currently working on the last book for #5.

    I have never dealt with jealousy issues probably because they are all 15 or more months apart. :)

  28. The best advice I heard is to include our daughter (who was 3 1/2) in everything- every diaper change, every bath, etc. It was time consuming but so worth it.

  29. I got my two kiddos in one pregnancy, so I don’t have first hand advice. But… I have always heard about reading books to the Big Brother/Big Sister to prepare them for new sibling’s arrival. Just today we took a trip to the library and one of my girls selected a very cute book called “Not Yet, Rose” by Susanna Leonard Hill. It was so cute and by the end of it I half expected my girls to ask if/when I could have a baby!

  30. I had my children do a few fun projects for the baby. They made onesies for him. Just with rubber stamps and fabric paint. They also went to build a bear and made a stuffed bear for him which they brought to the hospital the first time they met him. We also made a counting down chain with links of scrap paper, since it was a scheduled c section I thought the vissual would be helpful. The baby also had gifts for his older sister and brother for each day they came to visit in the hospital. For example my son got the book “a pocketfull of kisses” one day, a stuffed raccoon the next, a bag of Hershey kisses, etc….. You can read more on my blog.

  31. Our son turned 3 just one month after our daughter was born. I really believe that preparation completely depends on the individual child. Andrew has always had a huge desire to help and make people happy so we had him help fasten the diaper tabs, grab me a blanket and anything else he could do but we never made it manditory. I also made sure that I gave him extra hugs and cuddle time whenever I could. I think it’s important to let you child be who they are and love them for it even in the midst of so much change.

  32. Pamela Balabuszko-Reay

    I am the mom of two kiddos- both through adoption. When our daughter was a few weeks shy of four our son came literally overnight. No warning. His was a last minute placement. We had been preparing our daughter for an eventual sibling but for a three-year-old and no pregnant mommy it was a hard concept for her to grasp. She did pick out a blankie bear for her brother or sister and put it in the crib in preparation about six months before her brother came. She was very proud that her brother picked it as his favorite lovey later on. She also named her upcoming sibling “Tree”. We always refered to her someday sib as Tree. When we told her that the new baby in the house was Tree she was shocked. Reality and the concept of a someday sib were very different. I honestly think that it is that way for most kids however their sibs come. I think that the other moms and women who have posted have had some fab suggestions about how to smoothe the transition. What I would add is that there are gifts in the points of discomfort for our bigger kids. They learn all kinds of life lessons during this experience. Being patient, what it means to help, living through frustration, dealing with the attention being on someone else. They are so resilient. And they are loved. That may be the ultimate lesson. That there is more than enough love to go around. One transition that no one mentioned before I became the mom of two kids is that I would mourn the loss of the relationship that I had with my daughter before my son came. I missed the one- on- one relationship we had. Who knew? I was so focused on how she would feel about the changes. Of course I got to see new sides of my daughter that made me love her all the more when she took on the role of big sis. My kids are now almost 5 and almost 9. They are typical sibs- they play together, love each other wildly and fight like cats and dogs. The bottom line for me is that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make the situation painless. It won’t be- but there is going to be an awful lot of love around! All the best to you as your family grows.

  33. Out of necessity, my daughter accompanied me to every OBGYN appointment during my 2nd pregnancy. I made each visit a special event complete with a trip to the donut shop and lollipops. Hearing her sister’s heartbeat, seeing her on the ultrasound machine and helping the doctors measure my belly helped to make her sister a reality for her. After nine months of these exciting trips with me to go check on our new baby, she was completely ready to welcome her sister into our family.

  34. Megan Trueblood

    When my sister had her second child she had a gift waiting at the hospital for her first child, Caleb. When Caleb got there she told him the baby had brought him a present. He thought his new little sister was pretty cool and their relationship was off to a good start. My other sister has done this too and it is always a great first impression!

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