When rounding on newborn babies in the hospital I make it a point to ask if there is an older sibling. How old is the new big sister and/or brother? Who is taking care of them now? How has your family helped to prepare the child for the new baby?
It is normal for children to experience a sense of loss when a new baby enters the picture. A child that was once the center of the family is suddenly displaced by a screaming little creature that occupies all of the parents’ time and energy. However, helping your child prepare well before the baby is born can pay dividends down the line.
Much of parenting is about expectation setting.
Children feel most comfortable in routines. If a big change to that routine is on the horizon they do best if someone helps them prepare. Your child may have noticed changes in mom’s body. When my wife was pregnant with our third child my daughters noticed very early on. They developed their own theories for what they sensed was happening and assumed that mom’s belly was protruding from eating too much dinner. They also noticed that mom slept a lot more and got tired easier. These are openings for discussion. Talk about how the baby is growing inside and the importance of eating nutritious food so the baby can be healthy. Tie that into why your child should eat healthy too. Also talk about the coming changes in family life and routine. “Mommy is going to be very tired.”
Pregnancy is a great opportunity to encourage a little independence. Make a list of all the ways she can be a big girl such as setting the table, grabbing her own snack, putting away her pjs, hang up her coat. Reconfigure her bedroom, the bathroom, the kitchen and the playroom so commonly needed items are within reach and your child can find things on her own.
It is not all loss for your child.
Less time with mommy may create opportunities for bonding with other family members and friends, “There will be some changes. Mommy will not be able to make you breakfast every day. But you get to spend more special time with daddy.”
Commit to continuing some activities together like a walk around the block or trips to the library. Even just reading a book with little interruption together can be a special time.
Anticipate challenges and problem solve them together.
“It will be hard when the baby cries.” Brainstorm together things that can be done to ease the situation, or cause less distress for your older child. Use a baby doll to practice soothing the baby such as fetching a pacifier, holding a bottle, bringing wipes or diapers, turning on a lullaby toy, or singing quietly.
Make a countdown calendar to the baby’s due date.
Absent a sense of time, a nine-month wait can seem like eternity for a young child. Involve your child by having them decorate the calendar and post it on their bedroom door so each night they can mark off one day.
Start a new routine before the baby is born. For example, if you are planning on putting your older child into daycare see if they can start one or two months before the baby is born. A new day care and a new baby at once would be a lot to handle. Getting the older child occupied and out of the house may allow the parents a little more time to focus on the baby.
There may be no greater event in a child’s life than the arrival of a younger sibling.
Engaging your child and planning ahead can make the transition process smoother and a growth opportunity for your child. Besides, caring for a newborn is hard enough.
Here are some great children’s books on welcoming a new sibling.
On Mother’s Lap, by Ann Herbert Scott
The New Baby, by Mercer Mayer
The Berenstein Bears’ New Baby, by Stan Berenstain and Jan Berenstain
Here is a great resource with different tips depending on the age of your child.