Everyone seems to get excited about the arrival of a new baby. If you have had a baby before, you already know what to expect and how much fun a baby can be. However, why should your other child share your same excitement? He’s always gotten all the attention. Why should he welcome a noisy, demanding baby that steals the spotlight away from him?
Children younger than age 5 often feel threatened because they are no longer the center of your universe. The way you handle the pregnancy and first months of the new baby’s life can do much to reassure your other child that he isn’t being replaced by a new model. Your first child will learn to embrace the added responsibility of being a big brother or sister and make giant leaps in emotional development.
Begin to prepare your child before the baby even has appeared on the scene.
Talk about it. The most important thing you can do to prepare your other child for the new baby is talk about it, early and often. As soon as you’re comfortable spreading the news, tell your child, in age-appropriate language, about the pregnancy and that it will end with his having a new brother or sister. Get him used to babies by showing him pictures or visiting a friend who has a baby. Tell him stories about himself when he was a baby, and stress how much he’s grown and changed since then. Prepare him for everything; although he’ll eventually have a playmate, at first babies can be a lot of work, and some do cry a lot.
Make any major changes to the child’s life now. Start your child in preschool, move him from his crib or his bedroom, or initiate toilet training well before the baby is due. Done early, these changes will be your child’s accomplishments; done too close to the baby’s arrival, these changes may be interpreted by your child as the baby pushing him out of his normal routine.
Involve your child in preparations. Make your child feel part of the experience by including him in baby preparations whenever possible. A child can accompany you to shop for baby items, and an older child can help you set up the nursery. You may want to ask your child’s opinion about the names you’re considering for the baby and have him choose the outfit the baby will wear home from the hospital.
Prepare for the hospital stay and delivery. Explain that you’ll need to have the baby in the hospital, and enlist your child’s help in packing your suitcase well ahead of time. Encourage him to include something in the suitcase that will keep you company, such as a photo of him or a drawing he has made. Consider allowing your child to accompany you to the hospital and stay with you during labor, if you’re comfortable with the idea, you think your child can handle it, and the hospital allows it. After the delivery, introduce your child to the new baby, and encourage him to talk to and touch the newborn.
If possible, include your child in the baby’s homecoming from the hospital. Taking part in the event can help him develop a sense of attachment to the baby and help him feel that the baby belongs to him, too. When you arrive home from the nursery, have someone else initially hold the newborn, so you can give all your attention to the other child.
Ask for your child’s help, and involve your child in the baby’s care. Having responsibilities can help your child feel important and part of a family unit. Even very young children can help by getting a diaper for you, picking out clothes and patting a baby’s back to elicit burps. If your child wants to hold the baby, cautiously let him by placing the child on the floor with a blanket underneath him, and then carefully setting the baby in his arms. Older children can help with feeding, changing, dressing, bathing and comforting.
During feeding time, ask if your child would like to have lunch while the baby is eating. Alternately, feeding time is a good time to have a quiet activity with your child, such as reading or playing a game.
Schedule special time with your older child. A baby demands a great deal of attention-don’t allow your older child to feel neglected. Schedule a regular special event or ritual that is just for the two of you, such as a trip to the park while someone else watches the baby or special story time while the baby is sleeping.
Make room in conversation for other topics besides the baby. The baby is not your child’s entire life; encourage him to express his interests and concerns.
Expect — and indulge — some babyish behavior. After a newborn arrives, it’s not uncommon for children to return to thumb-sucking or revert to babyish speech, or for a toilet-trained child to have accidents. Don’t scold your child for these regressions; if you indulge them, they’re likely to be short-lived. Once your child knows he can have what the baby has, the charm will wear off.
Acknowledge your child’s feelings. Explain that visitors tend to make a fuss over a new baby, but that doesn’t mean they don’t think your child isn’t special, too. If visitors are fawning over the newborn, scoop up your older child for some cuddling.
If your child expresses negative emotions toward the baby, consider it a good thing-he’s getting it off his chest, not storing resentment. Allow him to express himself, and tell him you understand how he feels. Explain that it’s OK to feel less than jolly about the baby all the time. If your child tries to harm the baby, don’t overreact-a sudden burst of anger can be frightening. Stress that the child needs to be gentle with the baby, and encourage him to talk about how he’s feeling.
Be generous with praise. Don’t ever miss an opportunity to praise your child. Reward efforts to be helpful, and acknowledge any positive things he says about the baby.