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Another Baby on the Way? How to Prepare Your Child for a New Sibling

Updated: May 15, 2021

A new baby is one of the biggest changes for your family. Here are ways to help your older child navigate his or her new world.

Sibling rivalry towards a newborn is common and expected. Imagine your partner and child telling you, "I love you so much but I think it's time for me to get a another spouse or parent." You would be shocked at best, resentful and hurt at worst. That is what your child may be hearing and feeling with the arrival of a new sibling.

What is sibling rivalry?

Sibling rivalry refers to the natural jealousy of children toward a new brother or sister. Older siblings often feel jealous when the baby arrives up to age 4 or 5 years old. Not surprisingly, most children prefer to be the only child at this age. Basically, they don't want to share your time and affection. The arrival of a new baby is especially stressful for the firstborn and for siblings less than 3 years old. Older children can certainly still struggle with rivalry towards the newborn but often is not as intense as it is for younger children. The jealousy arises because the older sibling sees the newcomer receiving all the attention, visitors, gifts, and special handling they themselves have been accustomed to.


The most common symptom of sibling rivalry is excessive demands for attention. For example, the older child may want to be held and carried, especially when the mother is busy with the newborn. Other symptoms include acting like a baby again, such as thumb sucking, wetting/soiling themselves (despite being potty trained), and wanting to nurse. Aggressive behavior— for example, rough handling of the baby —can also occur. All of these symptoms are normal. While some can be prevented, the remainder can be improved within a few months.

How can I help prevent sibling rivalry?

While it's impossible to eliminate all sibling rivalry (who doesn't still feel a tinge of jealousy of their sibling from time to time?), there are measures you can take to ensure as smooth of a transition as possible.

During pregnancy

  • Prepare the sibling for the newcomer. Talk about the pregnancy. Let your child feel your baby's movements.

  • Try to find a hospital that provides sibling classes where children can learn about babies and about sharing their parents with a new brother or sister.

  • Try to give your child a chance to be around a new baby so that he has a better idea of what to expect.

  • Encourage your child to help you prepare the baby's room.

  • Move your child to a different room (if you are planning on using her room for the new baby's nursery) or a new "big girl" bed (if age appropriate) several months before the baby's birth. If she will be enrolling in a play group or nursery school, start it well in advance of the birth. You want to avoid having your child feel "kicked out" of her comfort zone - bed, bedroom, or home after the baby's arrival.

  • Praise your child for mature behavior, such as talking, using the toilet, feeding or dressing himself, and playing games.

  • Don't make any demands for new skills (such as toilet training) during the months just preceding the delivery. Even if your child appears ready, postpone these changes until your child has made a good adjustment to the new baby.

  • Tell your child where she will go and who will care for her when you go to the hospital if he won't be home with your partner.

  • Read books together about what happens during pregnancy and after the baby is born.

  • Look through family photographs and talk about your child's first year of life.

In the hospital

  • Call or FaceTime your older child daily from the hospital.

  • Try to have your older child visit you and the baby in the hospital if allowed. Many hospitals are not allowing this currently due the COVID-19 pandemic but will likely resume this in the future.

  • If your older child cannot visit you, send her a picture of the new baby.

  • Encourage your partner or family members to take your youngster on some special outings at this time (for example, to the park, zoo, museum, or fire station).

Coming home

  • When you enter your home, spend your first moments with the older sibling. Have someone else carry the new baby into the house.

  • Give the sibling a gift "from the new baby" (a little bribery never hurt anyone!).

  • Ask visitors to give extra notice to the older child. Have your older child unwrap the baby's gifts.

  • From the beginning, refer to your newborn as "our baby."

The first months at home

  • Give your older child the extra attention she needs. Help her feel important to you personally. Try to give her at least 30 minutes a day of exclusive, uninterrupted time. Hire a baby sitter to care for the baby and take your older child outside or look through her baby album with her. Make sure that your partner and relatives spend extra time with her during the first month. Give her lots of physical affection throughout the day.

  • When you are busy attending to the baby, try to include your older child by talking with her. When you are nursing or bottle-feeding the baby, read a story, play a game, or do a puzzle with your older child.

  • Encourage your older child to touch and play with the new baby in your presence. Allow her to hold the baby while sitting in a chair with sidearms. Avoid such warnings as "Don't touch the baby." Newborns are hardier than they look and it is important to show your trust to your older child. However, you shouldn't allow the sibling to carry the baby until she reaches school age.

  • Enlist your older child as a helper. Encourage her to help with baths, drying the baby, getting a clean diaper, or finding toys or a pacifier. At other times, encourage her to feed or bathe a doll when you are feeding or bathing the baby. Emphasize how much the baby likes the older sibling. Make comments such as "Look how happy he gets when you play with him," or "You can always make her laugh."

  • Boost your older child's self-esteem and highlight her important place within your enlarging family by pointing out her "big kid skills." Stress how fun it is that you can do things with her that you cannot with the baby (ex. talking, playing ball, doing each other's hair, etc).

  • Do not ask the older siblings to be quiet for the baby. Newborns can sleep fine without the house being perfectly quiet. They will also have to get used to sleeping with some noise in the background. Asking your older child to do this repeatedly may cause her to resent the baby. If she is being overly disruptive, distract her by taking her outdoors to the yard for some play or FaceTiming with a relative.

  • Accept baby-like behavior, such as thumbsucking or clinging, as something your child needs to do temporarily. Do not criticize or ridicule her. Occasionally, some older siblings ask to breastfeed when they see their younger siblings doing so. As strange as this may seem, it would be fine to allow her to try it a couple of times. Try saying, "You can if you really want to but I guess I will have to eat your yummy peanut butter sandwich then." Most will lose interest fairly quickly after a few attempts.

  • When your child behaves aggressively, stop her right away. Tell her, "We never hurt babies." Send your child to another location for a "cool down" for a few minutes. Don't spank your child or slap her hand at these times. If you hit her, she will model your behavior and may try to do the same to the baby as revenge. For the next few weeks, supervise their interactions closely and intervene as needed.

  • If your child is old enough, encourage her to talk about her mixed feelings about the new arrival. Suggest an alternative behavior: "When you're upset with the baby, come to me for a big hug."

Final words...

There will be (many) times you will long for the simplicity of having just one child to care for - something you probably did not appreciate when there was only one (no one ever does)! During those harried, sleep-deprived days of taking care of multiple little ones, take a moment to remind yourself of the lifelong gift you have given your child - that of a brother or a sister. Take a deep breath, wipe that baby spit off your shirt, and press on!

My middle son on the day of his little sister's birth when he clearly realized that life as he knew it was truly over...

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