As an expectant parent, you’ve likely felt a whirlwind of emotions about your upcoming addition. It’s a big transition for everyone. The family dynamic is about to shift, and your older child may be wondering what this means for them. Below are some tips to help prepare your older child through conversation and play.

Break the News Directly 📢

One thing you’ll have to decide is when to tell your older child. When a mom starts showing or is nauseous a lot or simply not feeling well, that can be a good time to tell the older child. Or when you’ve told friends and family who may mention it around your child, that may also be a good time to tell the older ones.

What’s hard is when children see things changing but don’t understand why. When no one is talking about something but they notice things are different, they have to make up a story in their head about what’s happening.

When you’re ready to share the big news, you can say something like:

“Hey sweetie, I want to tell you something. We have big news. We’re going to be welcoming a new baby to the family. The baby is growing inside of me just like you did. And when the baby comes, you’re going to be a big brother/sister!”

Explain that they may have a mix of feelings about this big news. Reassure them this is totally normal with such a big life change.

You might say, “It’s OK to be excited, to be angry, or even sad. You might have lots of different feelings.”

“Part of me is excited and part of me is kind of nervous about the transition, and that’s normal.”

Support their feelings through this change. Say “It’s okay to feel [emotion]. This is a big deal!” Talking about your own mixed feelings also validates theirs.

Discuss What to Expect 🤔

Kids often struggle with changes they don’t understand. It’s not the big news itself that’s the problem; what’s hard on kids is when they’re aware that changes are underfoot but no one is talking about it. Of course, it needs to be talked about in an age-appropriate way.

That’s why being upfront about what will happen when the baby arrives, in a way a child can understand, is important. For example:

✅  If mom is going to the hospital, let them know who will stay with them while you’re away. Whatever the birth plan is, give your older child an idea of what will happen right before, during, and after the birth.

✅  Talk about what babies are like. You can mention that they cry, sleep, eat, and need diapers a lot!

✅  Let them know that you’ll be home for a while after the baby is born. You’ll be resting a lot but you’ll try to keep some of the routines they’re used to the same.

Use Play to Share Information 📣

Play is a child’s language. Act out scenarios they’ll encounter using toys or stuffed animals. For example, have a “parent” stuffie care for the “baby” as you pretend to feed, diaper, and care for the baby. This gives kids not only visual preparation but also a chance to play out feelings and experiences that may arise when the baby comes.

Reminisce About When They Were a Baby 🐥

Help older children feel recognized, cherished, and secure in their own unique history with you. This can ease fears of being replaced or no longer loved when the new baby arrives. For example:

  • Look through baby photos or videos of your older child as a newborn.
  • Create an album of photos with just them.
  • Talk about sweet things your older child used to do or say as a baby.
  • Reminisce about the excitement of their birth.

Plan Bonding Time ❤️

In the weeks before and after the baby’s birth, schedule special time with your older child. It’s so important to fill their connection cup.

Here are some things to know about special time:

Remember that jealousy or acting out is normal as your older child gets used to sharing your attention. Stay consistent with rules and routines to provide security, and try to avoid other big transitions in the months before the new baby arrives. If possible, avoid potty training or a transition to a bigger bed right around the time the baby arrives. With open communication and lots of good connection time, the entire family can adjust to their new roles with ease.