Preparing a child for a new sibling

by Katelin Whiddon

My first pregnancy was full of planning: choosing a name, decorating and organizing a nursery, etc. But, our second child was a beautiful surprise, and we had a lot on our plates with a 2-year-old and building a house. So of course there was some worry and urgency associated with not being completely prepared for what was to change. I can only imagine those feelings as viewed by a 2-year-old.

Parents often mention that they’re worried how their child or children are going to react to a new baby. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about suggestions for helping children adapt to a new sibling. Depending on the child’s age and developmental stage, the approach will vary. Asking your network of friends who have been through this may give you some ideas. If you are using the Internet to learn more about preparing a child for a new sibling, the American Academy of Pediatrics is a great resource.

Involve your children by allowing them to be a part of the pregnancy and start to build a relationship with the new baby. This is a good first step to help prepare young children for a new baby. Have your child read to, talk to, hug or kiss your belly while pregnant. Babies can hear in utero as young as 10 weeks gestation, and after birth, they recognize those voices heard during pregnancy. If appropriate, children may be able to go with you to your appointments (check with your OB clinic to find out if this is allowed and keep in mind what may occur during visits/exams to decide if this is good for your child). Some older toddlers may enjoy helping fold and organize clothing for a newborn’s room, decorating the nursery or maybe making something special for their new sibling.

Be prepared for some regression in development in toddlers when a new baby is brought home. They see that this new baby gets a lot of attention and that visitors come to the house to see the new baby. Children who are previously potty trained may begin to have accidents. Children who are able to feed themselves may want to be fed or even want to drink from a bottle or restart a pacifier after having been weaned from it. These are normal and are ways that the children are seeking more attention.

When asked, my amazing OB/GYN gave me her advice on bringing a new baby home with other kids. She said that it is inevitable that the newborn and the other children will need things at the same time, perhaps even crying at the same time. A newborn is going to cry anyway, but the other children already feel replaced, so tend to them first — making them feel as if they are still the most important. Take care of any immediate needs of a newborn, of course, but if the baby is in no danger, listen to the other child or children and meet their immediate needs. Sometimes just knowing they will be heard and can get your attention will help them resolve the insecurities that may have developed. Feeling like they are no longer important can result in behavioral problems with the older sibling or siblings. Getting grandparents to help with the older sibling — or to care for the newborn so that you can have a date with your older kids can help, too.

I won’t lie to you. The first few months after my second child’s birth were not times I would want to repeat. It was a time of major adjustments. Between a caesarean recovery, moving into a new house, a colicky reflux baby and the 2-year-old getting into and smearing Vaseline and other not-to-be-named substances in her room repeatedly, it was a rough adjustment period. We survived, and you will, too.

Now nearly three years later, our daughters are best friends, and I couldn’t imagine our lives any other way.


A native of Conway, Katelin Whiddon is a family nurse practitioner at Central Arkansas Pediatrics. She and her husband, Daniel, have two daughters. A graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, she has her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.