Dona Matthews

Dona Matthews, PhD, has been working with children, adolescents, families, and schools since 1990, and has written dozens of articles and several books about children and adolescents. She writes a twice-weekly advice column for Parents Space, 'Ask Dr Dona.' Please send your questions to her at the e-address below. She'll do her best to answer your question as quickly as possible.

rsz toddler and newborn e1368167656829 Preparing a Toddler for a New Baby: Share, Show, Listen, and Reassure

Question: I’m expecting another baby in about five months. When and what should my husband and I tell my 2 year old (Irfan) about this? How can we prepare him so it’s not a terrible shock when I bring the baby home? 

 Answer: It’s wonderful that you understand how important preparing a toddler for a new baby is, and how hard it might be for Irfan. Here are a few basic guidelines:

  1. Share the news. Tell Irfan about the upcoming addition to your family around the same time you tell others in your life. He should feel like he’s in the loop when friends and family congratulate you or talk about it. You might suggest to Irfan that he be the one to tell someone about it—Grandma or an aunt, say, someone he knows and loves. Even if that person already knows, it’ll help him feel an important part of this process, and that he has some happy good news to share. Don’t worry if Irfan has no interest in the talk about his new sister or brother. It’s not going to make sense or sink in for him until the baby actually arrives, but it is wise to prepare him so he doesn’t feel blindsided when that happens.
  2. Don’t share too much. Preparing a toddler for a new baby doesn’t mean explaining everything that’s going on. In particular, don’t talk too much about any nausea or fatigue you’re feeling, especially if it prevents you from doing things with him. Tell him that it takes energy to grow a baby and you’ll need some help from him while that’s happening, but you don’t want him blaming the baby for his loss of your time or energy.
  3. Show him what’s changing. You can show Irfan that your stomach is getting rounder, and explain that it’s going to get rounder and rounder for quite a long time (realizing that time doesn’t really make sense for a toddler, past tomorrow at the farthest). You can let him pat your stomach and explain that he’s got a new little sister or brother growing in there. Let him pat your stomach (gently!) when he asks, and show him from time to time how it’s getting bigger. The new baby idea will make better sense to him if he has the evidence of his own eyes and hands.
  4. Show him what he was like as an infant. Over the next few months, you can show Irfan photos of when you were pregnant for him, and when he was a baby. Talk to him about what you did with him when he was an infant—how he cried when he was uncomfortable or hungry, and how he needed lots of snuggles and lots of naps. Laugh together about the way that babies need to be burped, and practice burping a baby on his stuffed monkey.
  5. Listen to his worries. If Irfan isn’t happy about the idea of a new baby, be patient. Listen to his concerns. Acknowledge his fears—after all, they’re totally valid. The analogy people sometimes use is of a husband telling his wife he’s planning to bring home another woman he loves to live with them. Very few wives would greet this news with pleasure, and very few children feel unmitigated joy at the prospect of sharing their parents with another kid. If Irfan feels it’s okay to be upset about this upcoming baby, it’ll help him get to his happier feelings. One way or another, his family is about to get bigger and more interesting.
  6. Reassure him of his place in the family. It’s important that he feels like an essential member of the family, and that he knows he’s not being replaced or displaced in your affection. You can go shopping together for something that he can give the baby when it comes, a special gift from the baby’s big brother. You can also go shopping with him for something the baby wants to give his big brother.

A website with some actions to involve Irfan with the pregnancy can be helpful in the process of preparing a toddler for a new baby:

It includes suggestions like spending time with infants and babies before your baby comes, so Irfan can see what they look like and what happens around them.

Books can be helpful too, while preparing a toddler for a new baby, in helping Irfan understand what’s happening in his family. You’ll find some suggestions at this website:  It includes

  • The New Baby by Mercer Mayer
  • Babies Don’t Eat Pizza: A Big Kids’ Book About Baby Brothers and Baby Sisters by Dianne Danzig
  • There’s Going to Be a Baby by John Burningham
  • Waiting for Baby by Harriett Zeifert

Preparing a toddler for a new baby – for more ideas, try these websites:


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