Many parents anticipate getting to tell their first-born child that he or she is going to be a big brother or sister. There are so many videos online of parents documenting the moment when they revealed the news to their oldest child (or children), only to be met with tears and anger about the new baby itself or the gender of the new baby. While having a new baby is an incredibly exciting time, it can also be a time of confusion and jealousy for young children. Helping your child prepare for the new arrival can help them feel confident and secure and ease them into their new role as big brother or big sister.

Preparing Your First-Born and Older Children for a New Baby

The Best Time to Break the News

It’s always a good idea to wait until you are out of your first trimester to let your child know about the new baby. Miscarriages and other complications are most likely to occur during the first trimester, so many moms choose to wait until they are in the second trimester before spilling the news. Beyond this, experts agree that the best time to break the news depends on the maturity and age of the child. Young children don’t fully understand the concept of time, so a far-away date may be too abstract to them. Pairing the due date with a milestone, such as a holiday or family member’s birthday, can give them a better idea of when to expect the new baby.

Announcing the New Arrival

With the recent popularity of posting baby announcement videos online and gender reveal parties, it may be tempting to make a big fuss over telling your child about the new baby. Experts agree it’s best to tell them in private first and keep the explanation short and simple with something along the lines of, “Mommy and Daddy love you so much, we decided to have another baby to share that love. Mommy’s tummy will get bigger as the new baby grows.” Younger children won’t want a long explanation and older children will need time to process what it means for them.

Answering Questions About the New Baby

Every mom and dad dread the possibility of an older child asking, “How did the baby get in Mommy’s tummy?” Questions of this sort are bound to happen. Instead of sitting down for a long talk about “the birds and the bees” before your child is ready, offer a simple explanation. Most likely, your child doesn’t need to know the mechanics of baby-making as much as he or she needs to know that you didn’t swallow something to make the baby grow inside of you.

Getting Your Older Children Excited

Bring Out the Baby Albums

Young child are very egocentric and love looking at pictures of themselves. Use this to show your older children what life with a new baby will be like. Show them pictures of themselves as babies and use the pictures to explain what the new baby will need, such as saying, “Tiny babies need to be carried a lot” or “Mommy will need to nurse the new baby.”

Going on Prenatal Appointments

You love getting to hear your little one’s heartbeat or seeing their chubby toes on the ultrasound at each prenatal appointment, so it’s natural to want to share that excitement with older siblings. Prenatal appointments can be a little scary for children, however, so try one and see how he or she does. If it’s too overwhelming, schedule a babysitter for future appointments.

Re-Arranging the Bedrooms

If you are planning on moving an older child to a new room, it’s best to do it early on so that he or she can get used to their new room and won’t associate the new baby with “losing” their room. If your child is still in a crib, consider buying another crib or borrowing a bassinet for the new baby rather than trying to move an older child to a “big bed” too early.

Learning About Babies

If you have any family members or friends with babies, try to arrange a visit so your child can see how babies behave differently than an older child. A doll can also be very helpful. When you are still pregnant, you can show your older child how you will bathe and diaper the new baby on the doll; when the new baby arrives, he or she can be a “big helper” by caring for their doll just like you are caring for the new baby.

Making Everyone Feel Loved

The new baby is getting new clothes, toys, bedroom furniture, parties and visits from family… all before they actually make their debut. It’s normal for older children to feel jealous and insecure as they wonder about their new place with the new baby’s arrival. Even children who were excited about the prospect of a new sibling can begin to feel worried about what having a new baby means for them when the new baby comes home.

Giving Gifts

Family and friends love showering new babies with gifts of cute blankets and outfits. Young children can have a difficult time understanding why the new baby is getting presents and they aren’t. Buy a few small gifts and hide them for these occasions, or allow your older child to help unwrap the gifts that are being given to the new baby to include them. This can help them get used to the idea of sharing.

Spending Quality Time

It’s well-meaning, but unrealistic, to try to spend “equal” amounts of time with all of your children. Newborns need a lot of care. Instead, make a point to use the time while the new baby sleeps or is spending time with another family member to spend quality time with your older child. Reading a book together, playing with toys or taking a quick walk with just them will ensure him or her that you will always be there for them.

Including Older Children

Include your child as much as possible and give sincere praise when they are a “good helper.” Your older child can bring you diapers, lay on the floor next to the baby during tummy time or carefully help feed the baby pumped breast milk from a bottle.

Your family is about to grow from three to four (or more). It’s an exciting time for everyone. Prepare your older child now for the new baby with these tips and be patient with the wide-range of emotions that they are sure to experience.