Tips for Transitioning to Two (or More) Kids: Seven simple ways to make it easier on everyone

This article was first published elsewhere in August 2023.

In case you hadn’t noticed, becoming a parent is a big deal. An assumption people often make when a second or subsequent baby (or babies, if you’re expecting multiples) comes along is that because you’ve done it before, you’ve got it covered and don’t need so much help. In some ways they’re right, but in many they’re very, very wrong.

Yes, you’ve parented a baby before, but you’ve never parented THIS baby.

If you’re the gestational mother or parent, it’s likely you’ve experienced birth and some degree of postpartum recovery before, but you’ve never had THIS birth or postpartum recovery.

Above all, you’ve never supported your older child (or at least one of your older children) through becoming an older sibling rather than the baby of the household.

girl in red and white plaid pants sitting on floor beside brown and white floral sofa
Trust me there are about 30 photos where one or both kids are crying before you get one like this. Photo by Christian Bowen on Unsplash

“How will my older child cope?” is the primary area of worry that comes up when I speak with parents expecting second or subsequent babies. Some children will take a new sibling in their stride, some will find it extremely difficult, and most will fall somewhere in between.

This post offers seven tips to smooth the transition for your little ones across the following areas:

  1. Preparing their environment for Baby

  2. Building relationships

  3. Preparing for the birth itself

  4. Clingyness in late pregnancy

  5. Sleeping arrangements

  6. Food

  7. Big feelings and behaviours

There are many more suggestions to smooth the path for yourself and your older child when it comes to postpartum round 2 (or 3, or 4, etc. etc.), so consider this a starting point only. 

  1. Make visible changes gradually.
    Some families find it works well to introduce visual signs the baby is coming soon bit by bit. If you’re going to use a bassinet or change table you can set these up a week or two apart and let the older child get used to seeing it there and playing around/on/in it themselves. If their car seat will be switching to the other side of the car, do it ahead of time to get them used to sitting on their new side with the baby seat in the back with them. If you’re getting a different pram or second seat or scooter attachment you can practice with these together using one of their toys where baby will sit. This one depends a bit on the age gap between your children, so consider what parts are relevant to your situation.

  2. Build a support network for them too.
    We talk about “rebuilding the village” for parents, but what about older siblings? Imagine your older child is a pebble, dropped into a pond. A series of concentric circles ripple out representing the grown ups who care about and for them. You, as their parent(s), are the innermost circle. Ideally you have as much time as work off possible after the birth, Who is on the next circle, and the one outside that? Perhaps there are grandparents, other family members or some of your friends. It might be early childhood educators or your next door neighbour.
    Whoever they are or could be, start investing in those relationships before baby arrives. Ideally this would be done by spending time altogether so they can see your ease around these people too, however in some settings like day care this is not always possible. Remember also that the aim is not necessarily for these people to have unsupervised time with your child once baby is born, but for them to have as many familiar, safe people as possible who can come over and give them their undivided attention in play and make them feel special while your capacity to do so is limited.

  3. Talk the plan through many times, even if they are little.
    Where will they go while the baby is being born? Who will be taking care of them? Will they be in the house with you, or will they be going to a hospital to visit you? Talk it through over and over.
    If you’re labouring and/or birthing at home and plan on them being with you, get them used to the sounds and sights of of labour with loud “animal noise” type games and videos. If they are old enough to understand, I would also explain in age appropriate language what the plan is if you need to transfer to hospital during or after labour. If you’re having a caesarean there are some good explainer videos for kids (look for the one where the doctor mum cuts through layers of play dough), which you can use to help them understand the process and why they need to be gentle with your body afterwards. You can listen to how I prepared for my second birth at home and postpartum on the “Anna Asks” podcast using the links provided.

  4. Expect clingyness.

    Towards the end of their pregnancy, many mums and parents find their older child seems more clingy to them just at the time they’d hoping the child would be acting a little more independent. Kids generally have no concept of time - one hour is the same to them as one month is the same as “next Christmas”. I suspect they feel like every time you’re out of their sight, the baby might come out, and you’d forget about them (a fear my daughter expressed to me through tears when I tried to drop her to preschool and she clung to me with all her might). Once the baby does arrive and they see they are still loved and remembered this often subsides. This can take days or weeks, but they do get there eventually. It’s also totally normal (and aggravating) for them to want to play “being a baby” during pregnancy and afterwards - the more you lean into this and love them up the quicker it will pass.

  5. Don’t get too hung up on sleeping arrangements ahead of time.
    Parents who’ve been room-sharing with their kids often start to fret about needing to move their big kid into their own room. If it helps at all, my big one slept in the same room as me and even got into my bed the night I was in labour with my second child, then moved into another room with Dad the following night, then her own room a couple of months after that when she felt ready. This isn’t going to happen for everyone but the point is there’s no need to rush any changes if you don’t want to. One of my podcasts guests, midwife Kate Elizabeth, said how she planned on moving her two bigger kids back into the room with her and her third baby so she wouldn’t have to get up to help any of them in the night, and got a bigger bed in preparation for this arrangement. There are no set rules here, you’ll figure out the way everyone gets the most sleep in time.

  6. Feed them up.
    Name one person who is a better human whilst ravenous and I will give you a medal. We talk about postpartum food for parents but we can plan food for the kids too. Toddlers and children need access to food all the time. This is pretty obvious if you’re the default parent, but if you’re usually at work through the day or do most of your parenting whilst the default parent is also around, it will surprise you just how often and how much they need to eat. Have someone (not the mother/parent who’s just given birth!) pack a full lunchbox or snacking platter each day for the first 6 weeks and beyond, even for the days you’re staying home, and it will make it easier on everyone.

  7. Remember it’s your job to listen to your child’s feelings, not fix them.
    There are going to be big feelings from everyone, but especially your older child(ren). Challenging behaviours are the outward expression of something feeling yucky internally. As mothers and parents, we would often like nothing more than to make those yucky feelings go away, but it’s not our job to make and keep our kids happy. Our job is to let them feel whatever feelings they have without shaming them for it, and making sure they know they’re loved regardless. This will involve listening to a lot of tears and tantrums when you’d really rather they’d just shut up and get over it!
    Listening to feelings and dealing with “problem” behaviours without using rewards (bribes) or punishment (including the withholding of affection) is certainly a challenge for most parents. If this is something you’d like to learn more about I recommend the books “Raising Resilient and Compassionate Children” by Lael Stone and Marion Rose and “The Nurture Revolution” by Dr Greer Kirshenbaum.

Hopefully this gives you some ideas! Remember postpartum planning is one of the specialty services I offer - we can spend 90 mins making a personal plan for you in a private session, or you can join my cheaper-than-chips online membership and ask me anything there.

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