How to Make the Introduction of a New Sibling More Joyful

11 June 2021

Though I wouldn’t say I hold particularly tightly to plans, I am also most definitely a planner.

For moments and events I know might have resonance for our family, I feel much more prepared if I start musing on them far in advance (this could mean days or weeks or months – the time horizon is relative to the importance!). This gives me time to work through my own thoughts and needs, and it also gives me time to think through the emotional needs of the people around me, research or crowdsource how others have marked the occasion, and brainstorm how we might be able to make the moment special or edifying or something that adds to the story of our family. In the end, whether or not everything goes off without a hitch, I can rest assured that I’ve put forward my best effort. And when the unexpected does happen, I find I’m better able to roll with it :)

So obviously, each time we’ve added a new baby to our family, I’ve given a lot of thought to how we might manage the variables within our control, and make such an important moment a joyful and seamless one. As we prepare for baby number three’s arrival, here are a few things that worked for us last time, and a few things we’re trying this time!

1. Choose a few books to read together. Books are a classic, low-key way to introduce new ideas and open conversation with kids. June’s absolute favorite is this one, by the inimitable Sally Lloyd-Jones, and she also liked I’m a Big Sister and Maple. At two and a half, they gave her words for what was ahead and got her excited about, well, being a big sister :) I’m thinking we’ll snag this brother version for Shep in the next few days.

2. Let them help choose a few items. June loved weighing in on baby sister’s muslin blanket (probably because she loves hers so much!) and giving her opinion on the curtain fabric. To keep things simple and pleasing for everyone involved (ha), I like to take screenshots of 3-4 choices to narrow down the options before consulting her. I think this helps her feel she has a role in the transition, and that preparing for baby sister is a family project.

3. Exchange gifts. This is not an original tip – I heard it from many seasoned parents when we were expecting Shep – but it has proved to be a memorable one. In the run-up to Shep’s birth, June and I went shopping for a stuffed animal for him, then wrapped it together. She got to bring it to the hospital and help him unwrap it when she visited for the first time, and was delighted when we presented her with a gift (also a stuffed animal) “from him” in return.

This exchange still comes up regularly in conversation, and we’re planning to recreate it for baby number three. Looking forward to a stuffie shopping date with my buddies in the next few weeks! (In case you’re curious, baby sister will be giving June a replacement camera, since hers broke a few months ago, and Shep a recycling truck. She’s already got a bead on them.)

4. Have your arms ready. Unfortunately, the kids will not be able to visit us in the hospital this time around, but when June visited after Shep’s birth, we made a point to have him snuggled in the bassinet so that she could climb up on the bed with me and I could give her a big hug right away (after being greeted in the lobby by Daddy). We chatted about what she had been up to in the last 24 hours, and only then did John hand Shep into the bed so that we could look at him together. The sequence is subtle, but I think it helped ward off an immediate visual of being “replaced” and the feeling of being unsure where she fit in.

5. Give them something to look forward to. Since the older kids won’t be able to visit us in the hospital (my parents will be staying with them), I’m planning to prep a few things to add some delight to our time apart. For day one (delivery day!), I’ll buy a little cake in advance and leave out candles so they can celebrate her birthday that night. For day two, I’m thinking my parents will reveal a bath bomb (always a hit). And for day three, a new box of sidewalk chalk. No need to go overboard – kids delight in the smallest things! – but I think this will help them feel remembered and connected to us when we’re apart.

6. Let them in on the secret. As you know, my parents have been and will be staying with us right up to and through baby sister’s birth. This is wonderful and needed, and though the kids loooooove having their grandparents around, it’s also a change from their normal – and that can be a lot in a season of transition. I wanted to plan one final moment of bonding for our immediate family of four before baby sister’s arrival, and landed on a picnic the night before delivery day. We’ll go to a favorite playground, bring one of their favorite takeout meals, and…. we’ll tell them baby sister’s name.

That’s right, they do not know her name (they would FOR SURE let the cat out of the bag if we told them further in advance than this!). June, especially, has been asking me more frequently what it is, and I think it will make them feel very important and special to know the secret before anyone else.

So there you have it – what we have planned for the next few weeks to make the addition of a new sibling more seamless and joyful! If you’re anticipating welcoming a new baby to your family, I hope you might find a few ideas to try. And, if you’ve already added a sibling to your family, I’d love to hear in the comments what worked for you!

P.S. Transitioning from one to two kids (lots of tips and thoughts on preparing in here, too!), the cost of our first year with a baby, and notes from the first six weeks.

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June 11, 2021 9:30 am

This is all such amazing advice, and I am so excited for your family! We brought home our second little one last summer, and we took the name secret a step further: we let our 2.5 year old help us decide on her sister’s name. We (of course!) made the final decision, but she was involved with the (very lengthy) discussions. She has also given her sister many, many nicknames in her first year of life, and I love how those little inside jokes and personal nicknames have already begun shaping their sweet sisterhood. Thank you for these awesome tips! Hoping to use some of them again one day. :)

June 11, 2021 10:38 am

I love all of these tips! Baby #3 joined our family in October, and we used lots of these strategies. For our big girls, involving them in simple baby care tasks (getting us a diaper or burp cloth, gently “burping” her after feedings, etc.) helped, too. They love “their baby” and have enjoyed having responsibility in helping with their new sister.

June 11, 2021 10:55 am

Thank you, fellow enneagram 5, for perfectly describing the need to start thinking and working through your feelings about big moments well in advance! I joke that I’m bad at articulating my feelings (I just cry, ha!), but I think I actually just need a LOT more time to process how I feel about things. You articulated this so well, as usual! (Also, tiny June and Shep – gah! Can’t wait to meet baby sister!)

June 12, 2021 9:17 am

I love your thoughtfulness around the different special moments you create for your family, and frankly it has inspired me quite a bit. I’d love a peak into your process. Do you simply think on things? Do you start taking notes? If so, in a notebook? Notes app? Asana? When do you decide to “take action,” whether it’s making a purchase, deciding on the exact gift, take-out, etc.

June 20, 2021 7:55 pm
Reply to  Em

I love this! I also can’t wait to hear what’s on your kindergarten note. Your thoughtfulness is always inspiring!

June 13, 2021 3:02 am

So many wonderful tips, my Em!!
And so many of what we practiced when we bought our baby girl #2 and #3 home to her sisters. It really helped ease the transition and we’ve never had any sibling issues in the first few weeks and months.
So excited for you all x

June 20, 2021 7:56 pm

Great post! I’d also recommend the wonderful book, “on mother’s lap.” shep and preschoolers would love it when welcoming a new sibling.