Tender topics- Part 3: Know when and how to approach the topic of a new sibling with preschoolers

Introducing a new baby to your home can be a source of delight and an opportunity for problems with young siblings.

It is important to prepare your child for the impending changes that will come with a new family addition. Photo credit: Pixabay.

It is important to prepare your child for the impending changes that will come with a new family addition. Photo credit: Pixabay.

Preschool children are exposed to life circumstances that can upset their world in an instant; a death in the family, a sudden move, a new day care provider or the addition of a new sibling. 

Bringing home a new baby to a family can change a preschool child’s life in ways that many adults find difficult to understand.  Some children act out when a new baby comes home; others regress to earlier stages of bottle or diaper.  Jealousy is not at all unusual during the time when a new child joins the family. While some children weather such a transition with no problems at all. 

It is important to prepare your child for the impending changes that will come with a new family addition.  How you explain and discuss this “tender topic” with a young child will depend in large part on their age and level of maturity.  Michigan State University Extension suggests that there are many things to consider when approaching the topic of a new baby sibling with a preschooler.

  • Timing is everything. There is no right time to break the news, but it can help to be prepared.  Make your decision about when to discuss the news around what will be best for your entire family.  You may want to wait a while before you make the announcement.  Toddlers live in the present and don’t have a grasp of time the way adults do.  It is difficult for them to wait for events that are a long way off.  It is important to share the information with your child once you begin to tell others.  You want your child to hear the news from you and not from someone else.
  • Know what to expect.  Do your homework.  Knowing what to expect from the age of the child you are dealing with will help.  Having information on the behavior of children at various ages and stages can assist you in determining how to approach the topic and what to expect from the child.  Children under the age of two probably may not understand what it means to have a new sibling while 2-4-year-olds can have many strong emotions.
  • Share memories and stories.  Bring out the pictures and videos of when your preschooler was a baby.  Talk about the day they came home and what new babies are like.  Let your child know how excited you were to bring them home.  Discuss how babies can’t talk to tell you what they need, so they may cry a lot. Talk about the fact that babies don’t do much other than sleep, cry, eat and fill their diaper when they are first born. 
  • Prepare for change.  If a new baby will require changes in routine such as a new bed, a different room or sharing a room, you will want to transition in stages to make the change.  Preschoolers often need extra time when transitioning to new situations.  Most young children want to know how a change will affect their everyday life.   It is important to also let them know what won’t be changing too so they can rely on familiar routines and structure.
  • Use pretend play.  Boys and girls alike will benefit from pretending that the baby is here through pretend play with stuffed animals or a doll.  Help your child hold a toy gently, explaining about how a baby’s head needs extra support.  Explore educational classes for siblings at your hospital or birth facility. Let your child practice feeding, diapering, burping and putting his doll to sleep.
  • Follow your child’s lead.  Watch for cues and let your child direct you on what and how much you will share.  Answer your child’s questions directly.  Give your child an opportunity to talk about his feelings, ask questions or express concerns.  Include your child on a visit to the doctor to hear the baby’s heartbeat.  Visit friends who have new babies. Be prepared for strong reactions.  Not all children will react in a similar fashion.  Accept your child’s feelings and assure them that it’s okay to be angry or worried. Help your child put feelings into words.  All feelings are okay. 
  • Be a good listener! The National Association for the Education of Young Children  recommends using children’s books to assist in discussing the tender topic of a new sibling. Some favorites include Best Ever Big Sister by K. Katz and We Have a Baby by C. Falwell.  Read lots of books on the topic with your child; asking questions, and listening to concerns.  Your local librarian can assist you in finding books that are appropriate for the age and stage of your preschooler or young child.

Children expect their parents and caregivers to be an expert on all topics. You won’t have all the answers!  Consult your physician, other family members or friends who have had recent family additions for advice on when and how to talk to your child about your growing family.  For more on information caregiving or family issues that affect you, visit MSU Extension.

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