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How to Help Your Child Prepare for Your New Baby

Not sure how to explain a baby is on the way to your toddler? Bone up on everything you need to know—from how to break the news, to explaining pregnancy to a toddler, to prepping your child and getting her excited for a new sibling.

How to Help Your Child Prepare for Your New Baby

Announce to your family and friends that you’re expecting again, and you’re bound to be greeted with enthusiastic rounds of congrats. Tell your toddler the big news, and the reaction definitely won’t be such a sure thing. For starters, a young toddler likely won’t have the slightest clue what you’re talking about (“A baby in Mommy’s tummy...huh?”). Even if your little one grasps the basics, the announcement could leave a lot of mixed emotions in its wake: confusion (“What does being a big sister or brother mean?”), excitement (“Cool — a new buddy!”), anger (“I have to share you?!”), anxiety (“Will you still love me?”), complete disinterest (“Yeah, yeah — now what about the trip to the park?”) or all of the above.

The reality is, a toddler’s whole mom-centric world is changing in ways that can be scary and unsettling. And while there will eventually be plenty of upsides to having a brother or sister, easing the transition from only to oldest will take a bit of patience and planning. Follow these tips to ensure fewer bumps as your own bump grows.

Breaking the Big Sibling News

Time it right. Ideally, you should wait until you’re in your second trimester to have a talk with your toddler. Not only will you know by then that all is well with your pregnancy, but you’ll be starting to show (and showing makes telling a whole lot easier). If you’ve got a really lousy case of morning sickness or early pregnancy fatigue, however, you may want to break the news to your child a little earlier — otherwise she may get the idea that something’s wrong. Make it clear that you’re not sick, just that “Growing a baby is hard work.”

Don’t assume she wants lots of detail. Adults have a tendency to over-explain things to kids, but sometimes it’s better to keep it simple. If she does ask where babies come from, that doesn’t necessarily mean she wants or needs a long discussion of everything there is to know about sex and conception. Keep your answer short and sweet, and if she asks more questions, then offer more information.

Be reassuring but also honest. Tell your child that having a new baby won’t change how much you and Daddy love her, but let her know that her new sibling will definitely need lots of your time. Explain that the baby will cry a lot, that she may hear the baby wake up in the middle of the night to eat, and that Mommy will be holding the baby a lot. Make clear that he won’t be a playmate for a long time, but that there are still plenty of ways she can make friends with her new little brother (see below).

Explaining Pregnancy to a Toddler Not sure how you can explain a topic as complex as pregnancy to a 2-year-old? These strategies can help:

Use books to tell the story. Help your child grasp the concept of pregnancy by using age-appropriate picture books like Before You Were Born: The Inside Story. Pictures will make things clear to a toddler better than words might, and may prompt her to ask more specific questions—ones that you’ll be better able to answer.

Show her old photos. Take out an album with pictures of yourself when you were pregnant with her so she can see what you will look like as your pregnancy progresses. If you have ultrasound photos to share (of either her or her soon-to-be sibling), those can be fascinating to a young child as well.

Try a few other visual aids. A baby doll will give your child a good idea of what her brother will look like once he is born. But you can help her understand how the baby is growing in anticipation of that day by comparing it to common objects, like fruits and vegetables. At 15 weeks, the baby is as big as a navel orange, for example, while at 19 weeks baby’s the size of a mango. You can even tell her that at 4 weeks, her brother was only the size of a poppy seed. Getting Your Child Excited About the New Baby Now that you’ve explained your pregnancy and impending siblinghood to your toddler, it’s time to get her excited about the new arrival. Better to get started early, because once baby arrives it will be a whole lot of information and emotions to process for your little one. Some tactics to try:

Do some belly bonding. Once you start to feel the baby move (which may be earlier in your pregnancy this time — possibly by month 4), let your little one feel it too, moving her hands around your belly and guessing what body parts she may be feeling. She’ll no doubt get a kick out of feeling those kicks! By about 24 weeks, your baby can hear sound — so encourage your toddler to talk to the baby at around this time. Explain that the baby will start to recognize her voice even inside mommy’s tummy and that once the baby is born, she will no doubt turn to look at her big sister at the familiar sound of her talking.

Have your child weigh in on potential baby names. When you have a list of names you’re noodling, ask your little one what she thinks of some of them. You probably won’t want to make any promises about any suggestions he might have — unless Boba Fett or Captain America sound appealing — but just the exercise of discussing options will make him feel included as well as make the baby seem like an actual little person on the way.

Take your tot on baby-related shopping trips. By finding activities that are fun and you can all do together, your firstborn will feel special and included. So hit the stores and pick out a couple of outfits, then let your child choose the one that will be baby’s going-home ensemble. And don’t forget to pick up a little treat for your older child, too (like an outfit she can wear when the new baby comes home from the hospital). Got an active boy who’s not into shopping? Have him “help” put the baby’s new crib together or draw a poster to hang in the nursery. Preparing Your Child for the New Baby As your due date nears and your belly grows, there are more steps you can take to get your toddler on board with a new baby at home:

Show your child how to interact with the baby. Use a doll to demonstrate how your little one should touch and cuddle baby. Tell your toddler that she needs to be gentle, and explain how to offer a finger for the baby to squeeze, hold a soft to for the baby to look at or talk using a (quiet) sing-song voice. Let your child have fun practicing silly faces, and explain that babies love to look at faces, especially a big sibling’s.

Consider a sibling class. Many hospitals have classes or one-day tours for children who will become siblings. Not only will your child learn something about becoming a big sibling by attending one, but she’ll see other kids who are going through the same experience, which could lessen anxiety. Make a call to your hospitals in your area to see if there are any such classes scheduled.

Pack your hospital bag together. When the time gets closer, have your child help you gather and pack all you need for your hospital stay. Explain the purpose for items that may seem mysterious. (“Having a baby is hard work. That’s why I’ll need an extra pillow for sleeping once the baby is out of my tummy.”)

Tips for Older Kids Got a child older than the toddler years? Try these tactics to prepare him or her for baby’s arrival: Consider having “the talk.” An older child will most likely want to know more about how the baby got inside mommy’s tummy, so now might be the time for a basic birds-and-bees talk using correct but age-appropriate terminology. A good book to help with this for kids ages 5 to 8 is It’s NOT the Stork!

Have your child help with baby-related tasks. Maybe dad can enlist your school-aged child to help put the new stroller together or lend a hand while he paints nursery. Another fun project for a bigger kid: designing a big sibling t-shirt or drawing a poster to hang over baby’s crib.

Explain the upcoming role as “big sibling.” Older kids may not feel quite as threatened as little ones by a new arrival, but they still need to know they won’t be displaced in your affections. Be sure to point out that, unlike the baby, your child can do many things on her own that a baby can’t — like dressing herself and calling Grandma. Show there are plenty of advantages over the baby, from staying up later to eating ice cream.

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