Welcoming a new addition to the family is a time for celebration. But first, parents who already have kids have to explain to them what the heck is going to happen.
We asked family experts for their tips on how to tell kids they’re about to have a new brother or sister. Whether your family is about to get bigger via pregnancy, adoption or another route, here are some pointers on what to say, what to avoid and what to anticipate.
Include your child in your preparations
Dr. Gail Gross, a human behavior and family expert, told HuffPost that you should try to “invest” your child, especially toddlers, in the process of welcoming a new sibling by allowing him or her to shop for items for their new brother or sister and offer opinions on names.
You can also include your kids in announcing the baby news to others, said Dr. Holly Schiffrin, professor of psychological science at the University of Mary Washington, and ask them to help you decorate the nursery.
When it comes to older kids, Dr. Susan Buttross, medical director of the Center for the Advancement of Youth at Universal of Mississippi Medical Center and spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, noted that they, too, can have a difficult time with the idea of a new family member taking time and resources away from them. To avoid this, Buttross suggested reminding teens that they will not have to fill the role of caretaker, and that they will play an important part in their sibling’s life and “will likely be a star in the baby’s eyes.”
Make the idea tangible
“Young children don’t have the cognitive abilities to think in the abstract, so make it as tangible as possible for them,” Schiffrin said. She suggested mentioning their friends who have younger siblings or turning to children’s books about the subject.
Younger children also don’t have “a very good sense of time,” she added, so countdowns can help them adjust. When the baby does arrive, perhaps gift the new older brother or sister a doll so they can nurture it alongside you taking care of their sibling.
Be aware of how you talk about the sibling
Buttross stressed that you should avoid equating a new sibling with time taken away from the rest of the family.
“There will be plenty of time to work on the logistics and specifics once the bonding of the siblings has happened,” she said. “Be careful about causing resentment before arrival! Don’t set up a competitive feel.”
It is also crucial to not discount a child’s feelings about the idea of a new sibling. According to Gross, you can instead “confirm” your kid’s feelings with sentences like, “Of course you feel this way” or “I understand completely.”
“Empathy goes a long way toward cooperation,” she said.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
While your family is transitioning, you should set time apart to check in with your children. Gross suggested picking a neutral place (like the kitchen, for example) and asking family members how they’re feeling.
“At least once a week, create a time and a quiet place to have a family conversation, where you can all take turns, as a family, talking about your feelings in an empathic way,” she said. ”This is how we make a family that is collaborative and not competitive ― whole rather than split.”
The chat is a good time to see if your child is feeling defensive about the sibling’s upcoming arrival and how it will change his or her daily life. If those feelings do come up, taking out baby photos of the child and discussing the fun stories behind them can remind kids of their importance in the family.
“Be sure to let your child know that they always will have an important spot and will always be special, no matter what,” she said.