8 tips for transitioning older kids into their big sibling role

Jen Bradbury
Jan 20 · 5 min read

In the days leading up to the birth of our second daughter, Kendall, our oldest daughter, Hope, would often curl up in my shrinking lap and fearfully ask, “Will you still love me after the baby comes, Mama?”

Of course, I reassured her that I would but truthfully, knowing how much time babies require, I worried that post-baby, Hope would feel forgotten.

Because we worried about this, we pro-actively prepared Hope – as best as we could – for the changes we knew would come after Kendall arrived. We also involved her in them.

Here are eight strategies we employed for helping Hope to adjust to her “big sister” role.

1. Prior to Kendall’s birth, we talked about her A LOT. We also proactively affirmed Hope, often telling her what a great big sister we thought she’d be. Every time we saw her demonstrate a caring and compassionate quality, we called that out in her. We spoke excitedly about all that she’d get to teach her baby sister.

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2. We attended a sibling class with Hope at the hospital I delivered at. Not only was this class cute, it was also informative. Hope learned how to change a diaper, give a baby a bottle, and safely hold a baby. She also got a tour of the maternity floor, which helped her feel at home when she came to the hospital to meet her baby sister.

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3. We had Hope pick out a few gifts for baby Kendall. We went to Build-A-Bear on a special mommy-daughter date. Hope built Rainbow Dash for herself and then very carefully selected a rainbow bunny to give to baby sister. She also chose a book and a baby toy for Kendall, which she wrapped and brought to the hospital with her. When she came to the hospital, we also had a gift to Hope from Kendall – a new game for us to play as a family, something we took time to do even before leaving the hospital.

4. We maintained Hope’s school schedule. I know this isn’t an option for everyone, but since Hope’s school offers the opportunity to go year-round, we wisely chose to do so. On the day we delivered Kendall, we woke up and went to the hospital. Hope woke up and went to school. It was the BEST thing we could have done for her that day. During a season when everything else was changing, school allowed Hope to be with teachers and friends she already knew. Plus, it gave us time with JUST her baby sister, without making Hope feel as though she was being ignored.

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5. Although our entire family was eager to see Hope meet her baby sister, we carved out time alone for this to happen. Her grandparents brought her to the hospital, but they waited in the lobby while Hope met Kendall. This allowed Hope to cautiously enter the hospital room and meet Kendall on her terms, without a ton of eyes watching her. It also allowed us to make early memories as new family of four.

6. We gave Hope “big sister” jobs. In the hospital, Hope wheeled Kendall around the hospital floor in her bassinet during her first walk. At home, Hope gives Kendall a bath and chooses her pajamas for her. These jobs make Hope feel important and give her real responsibility for her sister.

7. Knowing that there would be certain things that only I could do with Kendall after her birth (like nursing), we chose a special daddy-daughter project for Hope and Dad to do during his paternity leave: They built a plane together. Additionally, whenever I finish nursing, I intentionally engage Hope in some one-on-one time.

8. We carve out special mommy-daughter dates. Our first date was simply to go get burgers at “Five Guys” but it was SO important. We had uninterrupted conversation, we drew together, and we read together. When we returned, Hope admitted, “I didn’t really know what a date was… Now I know that it’s just spending time together with someone you love.”

Now, to be clear, even though we did these eight intentional things, immediately following Kendall’s birth, we also experienced some temper tantrums the likes of which we’d never before seen. But when those happened, we responded with grace and love and mostly, patience.

We also took time to establish a “Team Bradbury” covenant in two parts, one consisting of “Forever Rules” and one consisting of rules for this season. We created these together (meaning, Hope got to add rules too) and then we painted them onto a canvas. We refer to them often now, whenever things start to go awry. Hope also occasionally calls us out.

To be sure, going from one to two has been a challenging transition… But it’s also been a wonderful one.

On the day I delivered Kendall, Hope’s grandpa sent us a video of her dancing around our house, singing, “Today’s the day I’ve been waiting for… It’s the day I get to be a big sister.”

On the day we brought Kendall home from the hospital, Hope sat down on the floor next to her, her arm protectively cradled around the bouncer.

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Every day since, Hope longs to be with Kendall. She wants to hug her and hold her and play with her.

Hope often says, “Kendall likes me best” and there’s truth to that. No one makes Kendall laugh the way Hope does. And whenever Hope is in the room, she’s who Kendall pays attention to.

They’ve got a sisterly bond.

It hasn’t always been perfect.

But it has already been beautiful.

I pray it continues to be so.