Curious about how to prepare your kids for another baby on the way? Read our tips and tricks for how to talk to your kids about your growing family.
Whether it’s a hardwired caretaking instinct or just sleep deprivation, many parents experience a mind-bending blend of wonder, anxiety, and urgency as they welcome a newborn into the world.
Their toddlers, on the other hand, may be wondering: What’s all the hype about?
As a parent about to bring a second little person into the mix, it can be hard to predict how your first child will respond. Readying your toddler for a new sibling can feel like a highwire act: The balance of their feelings with the reality that life as they know it is about to change forever.
Fortunately, there are tons of creative (and fun) ways to help your toddler process the idea that a new sibling is on the way. So, if you’re wondering how to prepare your toddler for a new baby and become an expert on parenting with confidence, keep reading.
What Does a New Baby Mean for Your Kids?
As you prepare to dive into that conversation with your older child or toddler, take a beat and try to put yourself in their little sneakers. Depending on their age, some kids won’t be able to understand what having a younger sibling around will be like. Don’t be surprised if their initial reaction is one of indifference.
On the other hand, some toddlers may respond with feelings of anger or frustration. They may worry their parents won’t have time for them or focus on practical details like where the newborn baby will sleep and whether they’ll have to share their toys with them.
All of these reactions are normal. When a toddler finds out that their family of three is about to become a family of four, they’re likely to experience big kid feelings about it—maybe not right away.
These feelings may manifest as expressions of:
During this time, it’s important to make sure your child feels heard and that their emotions are being considered. Spend time talking to them about what they’re feeling. Make sure to pile on the positive attention to show them they are loved.
You can also help mitigate their anxiety by talking to them about the baby in ways that soothe their worries and help them feel included.
How to Talk to Your Toddler About a New Baby
At the toddler stage, children are learning to process information and begin to understand the world around them. But at this point, many kids aren’t able to think with adult-aged logic—or find the words to express what they’re feeling.
To match their processing timeline, preparing your toddler to greet a whole new human being will probably require several conversations, rather than one big one. To get the ball rolling, these three activities can help you meet them where they’re at.
Activity #1: Have an Anatomy Lesson
At two years old, most toddlers will be able to recognize basic body parts.1 They’re also at the point where they’re acquiring a more varied vocabulary.
Share the big pregnancy or newborn news and engage these abilities by having an anatomy lesson! Scrounge up an image or photo of a newborn and go through the body parts with your kids, emphasizing the differences between their bodies and your child’s to set expectations. These may include:
- Little toes – A baby’s feet are tiny! This means they won’t be able to stand on their own legs for some time.
- Scrunched-up faces – A newborn is absorbing the world around them with eyes, ears, and mouths that haven’t finished developing. They may also be expressing themselves.
- Lack of hair – While some babies are born with a thick head of hair, =others might come out as bald as grandpa. Keep your toddler engaged with their sibling’s growth by looking out for hair to come in between 6-12 months.2
Introducing a basic anatomy lesson is a practical way to demonstrate how family life could change in the coming weeks and months. It may even kindle your child’s interest in participating in the caretaking process (especially if they’re already a fan of doting on their own toy babies!).
Activity #2: Show Them Their Baby Photos
Toddlers process the world through narrative. Sharing stories with them about their own journey as newborns can help them understand what to expect.
Find some old photos of your young one as a baby, then spend some time looking at them together and sharing old memories. This can also be one of the fun ways to tell older siblings about pregnancy by showing them you care and are there for them. While a toddler may have mixed feelings about a second child joining the family, it's important to still be attentive to them. Showing them pictures of when they were a baby themselves can get them excited.
Most toddlers delight in hearing about themselves, so be sure to share tales about:
- Diaper disasters
- Feeding fiascos
- First words
- Favorite snuggle buddies
It’s important for caregivers to find opportunities to talk about the baby in ways their child will understand. Where possible, you can work in mentions of their future sibling during storytime. Point out zebra or elephant sibling pairs during trips to the zoo. Keep it positive and find anecdotes that will appeal to their sense of humor.
Activity #3: Carve Out One-on-One Time
One major way in which toddlers learn is through play. At this age, play has many benefits, including:
- Helping them to feel loved
- Learning how the world works
- Developing social skills3
- Teaching responsibility
Try spending even just a few minutes a day drawing, engaging in make-believe, or building with blocks. These activities reinforce the idea that they are special in their own way and that you’re there for them.
Your Toddler’s Reaction: What to Expect
Despite your best efforts, there will be moments when your toddler expresses frustration, fear, or anger over your second pregnancy and the newborn baby on the way. Don’t be alarmed if it’s not all excitement all the time. After all, you’re probably cycling through your own sequence of anxiety and elation.
Research shows that the introduction of a new baby can be a stressful event in the life of a young child.4 Common behavior responses include:
- Withdrawing from interaction
- Attention seeking
These initial reactions could feel negative—especially in light of reduced sleep, feeding difficulties, and all the other stressors that come with caring for a newborn. If you can, try to reframe these responses as important indicators to pay attention to.
Strong expressions of emotion from your toddler may not always feel pleasant, but they are valid signals of how well your firstborn is coping with the process of becoming a sibling. Keeping the following guidelines in mind can help them (and you) navigate the transition.
Don’t Assume They’re Excited
Many toddlers express enthusiasm about being a big brother or big sister early in the process. However, those feelings may be distant in those first moments when they’re able to imagine seeing their sibling in the bassinet. This is perfectly normal.
Validate their emotions by asking them what they’re feeling early and often. This shows them that you’re a reliable container for them to express what they’re feeling, from jealousy to joy.
As for your emotions? It’s not uncommon to find yourself experiencing anxiety or disappointment when they get frustrated around the baby. Be gentle with yourself and try to remember these feelings are complicated and will likely ebb and flow as your child adapts.
Give Them Tasks to Do
By two years old, most children will be able to copy the actions of adults and follow simple instructions.5 Encourage these skills by thinking up fun elementary jobs that will make them feel they have a role to play in taking care of the newborn. You can even rehearse them in the run-up to birth by practicing with a baby doll. If you're also wondering how to prepare for a baby, there are fun activities for you and your little one to do together.
Some responsibilities you might create include:
- Fetching diapers or wipes
- Finding lost pacifiers
- Distracting a crying baby with funny faces or words of affection
Alongside these tasks, you might include your older child in various preparations for the baby’s arrival, such as:
- Bringing them along to prenatal appointments so they can hear the baby’s heartbeat
- Letting them choose the blanket print when shopping for baby essentials
- Spending time showing them the changing station
- Taking a tour of the nursery and pointing out the different items you’ll use to make the baby comfortable after they’ve arrived
Practice Patience and Grace
Nerves can run hot when there’s a baby on the way. While this time of transition can feel overwhelming, it’s also the perfect opportunity for the whole family to work on patience.
If your child is acting out because they’re feeling anxious about the baby, try carving out a few minutes to sit down, listen to what they’re saying, and redirect their emotions towards play. Those precious moments could mean the world to them.
If you’re feeling short-tempered because your mind is on feeding the child in front of you and withstanding the kicks of the baby in your belly, try to take a step back. Focus on your breath and try to get back to a place of calmness.
It won’t be easy, but trying to stay present and giving yourself grace for feeling stressed is often worth the effort.
Grow Your Family with Slumberkins
Welcoming a new baby to the family is hard enough for parents—but imagine how much more complicated it would seem if you were only two years old! Luckily, many activities and strategies can help with preparing toddlers for a new baby by promoting feelings of inclusion during this major transition.
At Slumberkins, we have tons of educational support tools, toys, snugglers, and books to help your child get ready for their new sibling. Whether you’re looking for books on communication or emotional support stuffed animals, we’re here to help the whole family build resilience, confidence, and connection.
- Unicef.org. Your toddler's developmental milestones at 2 years. https://www.unicef.org/parenting/child-development/your-toddlers-developmental-milestones-2-years
- What To Expect. When Babies Grow and Lose Their Hair. https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/ask-heidi/newborn-hair.aspx
- Raising Children. Why play is important. https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/play-learning/play-toddler-development/why-play-is-important#the-importance-of-play-nav-title
- Journal of Family Psychology. Children's Responses to Mother-Infant and Father-Infant Interaction with a Baby Sibling: Jealousy or Joy? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4196720/
- Michigan.gov. Your Baby at 2 Years Old. https://www.michigan.gov/mikidsmatter/-/media/Project/Websites/mikidsmatter/documents/MDE_MilestoneChecklist_2YRS.pdf?rev=3028a55cae88432aa68166a2dcfcfac8