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Preparing for a New Sibling

Preparing for a New Sibling

By Amalah

Hi Amalah,

I have been reading your blog/columns ever since we were both pregnant with our first sons in 2005.  (Was looking for another blogger that I could relate to and found your blog somehow.) I’ve been a faithful reader for five years now and love everything you write.

My son Jude is a few months younger than Noah – he’ll be five in November.  In September (just three short months away- AGH!), his baby brother Aidan will be joining us!  Of course, we’re thrilled about this new adventure and have had many discussions with Jude, but I’m starting to worry. For one thing, he was the first grandchild on ALL sides (and I say “all” because my side provides two sets of grandparents thanks to divorce).  You can imagine the magnificent splendor that illuminated the earth when he exited the womb.  To say that these six people are obsessed with him would be an understatement.  And throw in a great-aunt who never had kids and also considers him her own grandchild (complete with weekly visits bestowing wrapped presents) and you’ve got a recipe for . . . well, something interesting.  He’s spoiled, yes.  But he’s also kind, pretty well-disciplined, and a good-natured kid.  He’s sensitive as well.  And relies on routine a lot.  (Cuddle time with Mommy EVERY night at 9:00 p.m. sharp or there will by hysterical weeping and gnashing of teeth.)

I just don’t know how he’s going to respond once the baby is here and I’m less available for him.  And when he sees all his “worshipers” oohing and ahhing over a new little bundle. I’m fully prepared for the fact that it will be a big transition for all of us, but I just . . .I want to make things as easy as possible for him (i.e., not leave him scarred for life).  So . . . I was wondering if there was a really good book out there or a DVD – something – that would help him understand the changes that are about to take place.  I began a search on Amazon, but -it’s such a jungle out there. (haha- pun not intended!)  I figured you might have come across something before Ezra was born.

Thanks so much for any and all advice you can give,

Advice Smackdown ArchivesWell, for one, good for you for being aware that your child is probably going to maaaaaaybe not be super-thrilled about his brother’s arrival. I admit I was entirely too pollyanna-tra-la-laaaa about the subject, and assumed that Noah was going to be just fine. And he WAS fine. Eventually. I don’t think Ezra’s birth and presence caused him any permanent stress or harm, but oh my God. He was not a happy camper there, for a good chunk of time.

And that was after reading him several “I’m a Big Brother” books every night for months, and showing him new-baby/sibling-themed episodes of his favorite TV shows (Blue’s Clues, Dora, Yo Gabba Gabba, just to name a few). So unfortunately, please don’t rely on these tools alone. They’re good, but really, they’re all pretty much the same. We just marched into the bookstore and grabbed whatever titles they stocked — What Baby Needs from the Sears Children’s Library, I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole, Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats and Mercer Mayer’s The New Baby. These are good books, and it felt good to read them with Noah and ask him questions and at least hope that stuff was sinking in. But it’s probably the rare preschooler who can look at a cartoon family in a book and really make the connection that oh, okay, this is going to be my life at some point in the future. You’ve just got to look beyond the TV and bookshelf too.

1) Get out his baby photos and shoes and clothing.  Show him his baby book — photos of when you were pregnant with him, at the hospital with him, doing all those time-consuming newborn tasks with him. You’re probably getting out a lot of hand-me-downs for the baby and (understandably) don’t want to introduce them to Jude like, “These were yours! And now they’re Aidans’!” But I don’t think it’s a bad idea to pull a few things out that you don’t need to use for the new baby (a special rattle, a toy, a coming-home outfit) and show them to Jude as “his.” Let him get the idea that he was the baby once too and got all the attention and care that the new baby will get, but that he’s absolutely not being replaced. Let him choose whether he wants Aidan to have that rattle or blanket or not. (Don’t react even if he does grab everything and scream NO! MINE!, though if he does say the baby can have such-and-such, praise him for being a good big brother and help him wrap the item as a gift.)

2) Talk to your family members, his worshippers. Suggest that everybody start dialing back on the spoiling — kind of like how they tell you to start preparing your pets for a new baby by restricting their access and time on your lap? Be mindful of adults trying to overcompensate for the coming change by treating Jude to things! and treats! and speshulness! Not only is this just not good for even the best-mannered kid, he’s going to be so extra sensitive once the baby comes and somebody inevitably arrives sans gift, or with just something for the baby. We had great friends and family who were REALLY good about remembering to bring a big-brother gift for Noah whenever they brought something for Ezra, and it was extra special for him because we HAD specifically put the kibosh on random extra gifts-for-no-reason some time before.

(Tangent! This is what everybody tells you to do — bring the older sibling a gift when you give the newborn something. And it’s funny, because Noah would watch me open Ezra’s gifts with interest only until he saw what the gift was. Socks? Onesies? BLANKETS? Are you kidding me with this? And he’d quickly wander away without a twinge of jealousy. So really, I wonder we might be putting a little too much emphasis in general on toys as a sibling-relations strategy.)

3) Arrange special outings with his worshippers after the baby arrives. Have the grandparents and great-aunts and whoever take him to movies or out for pizza or anything his little heart desires. This is a two-fold plan: a) it’ll give you a break and let you focus solely on the new baby for nice chunks of time, and b) it’ll give Jude a much-needed confidence boost to see that his favorite people come to the door JUST FOR HIM, instead of rushing in to ooh and aah over the baby (save that for after the Jude-focused outing).

4) Map out a strategy plan for his routine. So cuddle time with Mommy is a must. Put that on your list of non-negotiable events, and stick to it, for his sake. But scan his routine for things that maybe aren’t quite so important and start wiggling in some flexibility for yourself. For example. it didn’t ever occur to me that Noah absolutely expected me to make his breakfast every morning. As in, if Grandma went to put his waffle in the toaster, he would cry and sob for me. We should have been paying attention to this and had Jason make more breakfasts before school some mornings, just so it wasn’t such a betrayal (in his mind) that Mommy stayed upstairs with the baby while someone else got his breakfast ready. Start throwing him teeny tiny curveballs, especially when it comes to things that you *justknow* are going to be handled by someone else those first weeks and months. And then promise him that the OTHER THINGS, the really important things, like pre-bedtime cuddles or Friday pizza-and-a-DVD nights aren’t going to change for as long you can help it.


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About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Dawn

    June 14, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Hoo boy. That is a tough one. I’m not sure whether I got ‘lucky’ but my daughter was just over 2 and a half when her little brother was born…and I don’t think that she could have cared less. In fact I was wondering if maybe she was quasi sociopathic as she had ZERO interst in the baby. It was all, eh, whatever. Fast forward to 9 months later, it’s a different story. Mommy has to be the one to give her a bath, tuck into bed when sometimes I’d like to cuddle my little guy. As much as one can cuddle a very busy little boy.

    So… yeah. Talk to him about it, start transferring some tasks/routines and definitely have his throng of admiring worshippers dial it back. Good luck!

  • Lisa M

    June 14, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    I think I mentioned some of this on the sibling regression post, but I thought it was weird that most of the sibling angst occurred later rather than right after the birth. I think at first, my older son was wrapped up in being the big brother, and trying to be my helper, that he didn’t feel pushed aside until later.

    One thing that really helped him adjust was daycare. After the first week at home, we started taking the 3 year old back to daycare (shorter hours, but still there). I don’t think he even realized that I was going back home with the baby, all that mattered to him was that he still had his friends and his daycare provider, and most importantly, his routine.

    It doesn’t sound like that’s an option you have, but consider it for all the grandparents and aunt. Maybe they can start taking him out for special times (preferably as part of a new routine). Plus that gives them something to do when they ask how they can help. I think that time away from the baby and will help, especially if it’s with a beloved grandparent.

    Also, encourage him to help with the baby (in appropriate ways). We spent a lot of time talking about things he could do, like fetching diapers and burp cloths. Singing songs to the baby, etc. And he quickly grew addicted to the praise heaped on him (maybe a little excessively) for being such a good brother.

    Oh, and we like the Joanna Cole book, too. 🙂

  • Clare

    June 14, 2010 at 12:19 pm

    I know the impulse for visitors is to rush right to the new baby, but suggest that they greet Jude first, and interact with him as HIM (rather than as a big brother) first — not necessarily to bring gifts, just the sort of attention he’s used to. Perhaps you could even encourage him to introduce the visitors to his brother, so he feels like an integral part of the visit.

    I also enrolled my older son in preschool right after his brother was born. I know some kids would likely feel pushed out of the house by that, but my son LOVED it. He got to go play with his peers, and it made him feel very special and “big.”

  • NinaN

    June 14, 2010 at 12:26 pm

    Can I just say something here. That whole big sibling must have gift if baby gets gift really bugs me. I don’t want my kids learning that when someone else recieves a gift, they will get one too. Think of all the birthday party nightmares that could cause……. Seems to me like the arrival of a new baby is a perfect time for an older sibling to learn that others are special and celebrated as well, and yes we still love you and snuggle you and oh look at the present for the baby, isn’t that exciting! Would you like to see it? No, it’s just boring clothes and you’d rather go play or have a snack…… That seems to me to be the more “natural” way too handle it. PS- My girls were 15 months apart and my first was quit independent and seemed to happily accept the arrival of her sister (without a single present to bribe her).

  • Tricia

    June 14, 2010 at 1:44 pm

    I would also recommend What’s Inside Your Tummy, Mommy? by Abby Cocovini for older siblings – it gives you a life-size idea of what the baby looks like for each of the nine months of pregnancy along with some basic information on new developments.

  • Jan

    June 14, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    My first son was also born in 2005, and #2 arrived this past January. Our #1 was also the very first grandkid on all sides & generally the center of attention. A couple of things seemed to help…

    1) We kept him in daycare/preschool. Even though it sometimes seemed odd to be sitting at home alone with a sleeping newborn while my older son was in preschool, I think it helped him immensely to keep his routine. Plus, I had that time to really enjoy the little one & could pay more attention to #1 when he came home from school.

    2) I had originally been very worried about leaving #1 at home with his grandparents while I was in the hospital… he had never actually had someone else stay with him all night before. As it turned out, he came to the hospital with us for juuuuust long enough to realize that it was incredibly boring & was more than happy to go home w/ the grandparents. 🙂

    3) #1 is a lego fanatic & I got him a giant set for after little brother was born. This gave him & Grampa a nice long project to do that I got to help with even after I got home with the baby.

    All in all, we had fewer problems than I expected. Some issues came up later, but nothing overwhelming. I think the larger age separation helped quite a bit as #1 is way more rational & independent now than he was a couple of years ago.

  • Kim

    June 14, 2010 at 3:06 pm

    Great advice. My son is only 5 months old, but for some reason I worry about what it will be like with another baby. Definitely tips I will keep in the back of my mind for years to come.

  • Sara

    June 14, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    This is all great advice – I’m 1.5 weeks away from due date with #2, and while my 2.5 year old SEEMS excited to be a big sister, I’m so worried it’s going to traumatize her (because right now she’s a fabulous little perfect ball of perfectness, of course!). I’ve heard it’s a good idea to give a gift to the older sibling from the baby – um, bribery, much? But hey, we’ll try it probably…

  • Lisa M

    June 14, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I think Nina has a good point about learning to let others receive. But on the other hand, I think it is a traumatic time, especially for a slightly older child (preschooler +). And it’s not like a birthday party with one day of gift-giving, it’s the lead-up to the baby, and then the constant stream of visitors cooing over the baby and bringing gifts. That’s a lot of grace to expect from a child.
    We were able to avoid the whole problem by sheer luck, the new baby came about a month after my older son’s birthday. So we just pilfered some of his gifts and set them aside for when he needed a distraction. Christmas was also only a couple of weeks after the baby arrived, so that helped, too.
    I guess my point is, it doesn’t have to be a present, but the older child definitely deserves some special attention; and new toys can help when momma just needs a little time without one or both kids hanging on her. 🙂

  • Denise

    June 14, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    I’m so happy to hear about a child that gets so much love. bravo to family for the love and caring and attention. best wishes to you.

  • charlotte

    June 14, 2010 at 6:05 pm

    and this is why you don’t spoil children 🙂
    i don’t mean with love, you can’t ever have too much, but you’re just asking for trouble if theyre the CENTRE of the universe for EVERYONE they know…of course they’re going to see a new arrival as a pretender to their throne! as early as possible, children should be included in the excitement of the new baby and that shouldn’t be diminshed to spare their feelings, the arrival should always be portrayed in the most positive light possible…the slightest sign of pandering or but you’re special TOO will make a kid go…wait..why WOULDN’T I still be special??

  • Chaya

    June 15, 2010 at 5:14 am

    Just wanted to add to all the great tips.  I have a sense (and I may just be projecting my emotions), that part of the issue here is not just–“what are some helpful tips?” but an underlying “oh no, am I ruining my kid’s perfect existence with this little usurper.”  I totally felt that way with kids 2 and 3.  Not completely, obviously, but in there somewhere was tremendous guilt.  Going on kid number 4 (in a few months), I have so much less, because I have recognized what a gift these kids are to each other.  The new one is, yes, temporarily a usurper of attention.  But.  Ultimately, the new family dynamic has so much to offer, that it is, as corny as this sounds, just adding an incredible love.  It will take time, especially since the kids are farther apart–the older a kid , the more of an adjustment.  All the practical stuff is still important.  But, the more important thing is to reassure yourself in your heart that you are not doing anything bad to your child, but rather something wonderful for him, and present it that way.  
    As far as practical stuff, I totally agree that people should give him his usual attention, and interact with the baby in a secondary way if possible.  Also give him as much ownership and involvement as he wants\can handle.  My kids see the new baby as “our new baby,”, or my oldest daughter- “my baby”.  And then the same way that gifts for the baby are fun for mommy, they are fun for the kids, you know?  And just like the mommy is delighted at a thoughtful gift here or there, so can the older sibling.  I don’t think it has to be a one-to-one ratio though.  And, honestly, any toy or whatnot the older kid is drawn to from the baby’s stuff, let them at it.  Can’t really hurt to create an “ours” mentality.
    Sorry about the novel, but one more thing that was so so so important that somebody told me–when you HAVE to choose a kid to attend to, meaning, SOMEBODY will cry ( for small periods of time obviously), pick the older one.   For example, in your situation, if you are home alone at 9:00 p.m., and the baby is fed but just a little fussy, you CAN put him somewhere safe for a few minutes while you dispense your snuggles.  Yes, he might scream for a few minutes.  But I always think–well, they scream for a few minutes in the car too, if I can’t get to my destination yet, it really won’t do any major harm. Again, just for a short time once in a while.  I think my older children really appreciate that i can say-“Right now, the baby needs to wait a few minutes because this is your time with me\you need me”  They hear it ALL the time about themselves, so it feels good to hear it in reverse.  Half the time they will say–go get the baby, i don’t want it to cry.  And of course, this isn’t to say multitasking is impossible.  With a good sling\wrap it totally is possible most of the time.  But sometimes it just isn’t.
    Good luck!!!!!

  • From Belgium

    June 15, 2010 at 5:53 am

    What if the age gap is less than 2 years? My daughter is 15 months and I am expecting baby n°2 in just one short month. I bought the books, talked about baby sister, but while she seems interested I think she doesn’t really get it. Luckely she is used to daddy making her breakfast and she goes to day care. Now I am thinking of getting her a baby doll so that she can have a ‘baby’ of her own. Good idea?

  • NinaN

    June 15, 2010 at 11:33 am

    My daughters are 15 months apart. No, your oldest doesn’t get it. And she went really get it when the baby arrives either. We didn’t do anything special for our oldest and she just carried on doing her toddler thing and hardly noticed the arrival of her sister. And she won’t ever remember not having a little sister either. I think the most important thing was keeping to her routine and giving her my attention when the baby was sleeping. I almost think it is easier to introduce a new sibling at such a young age because they are so self centered as toddlers and don’t really notice a lot of what is happening in other people’s worlds. It’ll be fine, don’t stress. (I think parents worry about this too much and create a lot of the issues themselves).

  • From Belgium

    June 16, 2010 at 2:21 am


    Thank you, I’ll try not to stress.

  • Bridget

    June 16, 2010 at 8:54 am

    I’d also advise against over preparing.  My SIL prepared and prepared her daughter for a baby sister, and surprise – the amnio results had been misread and she got a brother.  All that preparation being wrong really threw her, I think even more so than not being prepared would have.  And, I hesitate to mention it because it is very rare and not likely to happen to you, but you have 3 more months.  We prepared and prepared our son for his baby brother and then lost him at 37 weeks.  He’s had a really hard time understanding why we made promises we didn’t keep and it has turned out to be a really big deal to explain that we were wrong to him.  I’m not saying not to do any preparation, but I wouldn’t get all his energy and attention focused on something that can be hard to control. 

  • Isabel

    June 16, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    I just put all of the suggested book titles on hold at my local library. Thanks for all the suggestions from Amy and in the comments.

  • Hillary

    June 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    Telling the baby to wait, even when he has no idea what you’re saying, does seem to help the toddler feel like life is a little more fair.

    It’s great to have the grandparents help, but you might find the toddler just wants YOU or maybe his daddy, as a lifeline to normalcy.

    My toddler, who was two weeks shy of 2 when my baby was born, was torn for a few days between being angry with me and only wanting his daddy and desperately needing me and only me. He really didn’t want all the grandparents in his face, even though they were just trying to be helpful.