Finding out you're expecting baby #2 is happy news, but it means a big adjustment for the whole family—especially when the soon-to-be older sibling is just a toddler with a limited understanding of what a sibling even is. A new human growing in Mommy's belly is a pretty hard thing to wrap your head around!
When I was pregnant with my second kid, I actually had to tell the news to my almost-two-year-old son twice. He was so young one "announcement" just wasn't enough. To make the news sink in for him, I brainstormed fun ways to talk to him about it, which, according to Dr. Daniel Blake, Ph.D., a child psychologist in Detroit, Michigan, is a good tactic (whew!). Dr. Blake has since reassured me there is no right or wrong way to tell a toddler a new sibling is on the way: "Parents should just keep in mind that it should be a positive experience," he says, adding to keep your child's level of understanding in mind.
1. Read a Story About It
Get your child a book about being a big brother or sister, which was my first tactic with my son. This way, you can sit down and read it together and then discuss what it's like when a new baby is born. You can even read it multiple times until he starts to "get it." Plus, seeing a happy child in a book is a signal to them that this is good news and they too will soon be able to have just as much fun with their new brother or sister. Adrienne Cardinal, a mom of two in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, introduced her pregnancy to her daughter with a big sister book. Over a year later, Cardinal says the excitement continues: "Julietta still wants me to read it to her!"
2. Throw an Announcement Party
Yes, have a party—a small one. In fact, so small it only includes you, your partner, and your toddler. Decorate the house like it's a birthday party and serve a cake. Letting your child know a new baby is coming in such a celebratory way sends the message that this is great news. And no child can be against anything that gets her some cake, right?
3. Involve Your Own Siblings
Your child may have a favorite aunt or uncle, but he probably doesn't realize that awesome relative is actually Mommy or Daddy's brother or sister. Invite this person over and have them announce the news with you. Then, you can explain the relationship you have to each other and mention that soon your toddler will have this special relationship with someone, too. They may even start to associate their new sibling with the same warm feelings they have toward their aunt or uncle.
4. Appoint Your Toddler the "Announcement Helper"
Sit your toddler down and tell her you have a special job for her: A new baby is coming and you need a special helper to announce it. (During this one-on-one time, you can answer any questions she may have, too.) Then, next time you see your friends and family, have your child announce the big news to everyone. The enthusiastic reaction to the announcement will make your child feel great, as though she has just made everyone in the room so happy. In the end, this was what worked with my toddler. He got really excited about sharing the news and gladly told everyone—strangers included—that there was a baby sister in Mommy's tummy!
5. Show Them Their Baby Photo Album
Get your child's first photo album or scrapbook out and flip through it together. Take the time to explain what it was like when she was a little baby. Talk about all the milestones, like learning to sit up, crawl, and walk. This will help you explain to your child that a new baby is coming—and while he or she won't be playful right away, that baby will grow up and learn just like they did. A trip down memory lane can be very exciting for a child and could make the news easier to receive. Mom of two Ellen Bright from Charlotte, North Carolina, showed her toddler Ashlyn her baby photo album when announcing she had a new sister on the way. Now that baby sister Addison is here, Ashlyn still loves looking at her baby photo album, Ellen says: "I bet she looks through it three times a week!"
6. Watch an Educational Show or Movie
Children are very visual so watching a children's film or television show that discusses the arrival of a new sibling, like the "Meet the New Baby" episode of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood, can help them process the information. Ask your child what he or she thought of the episode afterwards and answer any questions they may have. Then use the characters in the show to explain your pregnancy. Tell your child he or she will soon get a baby brother or sister, too, just like the character on TV. This will help them make the connection in real life.
7. Start a Responsibility Journal
Announce the arrival of the new baby by presenting your toddler with a responsibility journal, listing all the fun new ways your child will become your helper after the baby is born. Children love to feel as though they are contributing and it may help them associate the new baby with the chance to be a big kid! Personalize the journal with their name and title of big brother or big sister, getting as crafty as you can with decorations they will love (or turn to Etsy). List responsibilities like helping to change the baby's diaper, helping to load and unload the laundry, etc. This can work as the initial announcement to your toddler or even later on; I gave my toddler one about six months after his baby sister was born because he was starting to get a little bothered by how much attention she was getting. The journal made him feel more important and he loved helping out.
Keep Your Toddler Excited
As your pregnancy progresses, keep your toddler involved in the process so she stays excited about the impending arrival of her new sibling.