We have a wonderful 21-month-old son and are expecting our second child this month. What can we do to prepare our son for the arrival of the new baby? What developmental regressions should we watch for?
Robin & Ron Karp - Hillsborough, California
There is so much we don’t know about the little one that is going to be entering our lives. Will he or she be healthy, will he look like his father, or will she look like her grandmother, will he have colic, or will she “sleep like a baby”? For each of our questions, older siblings have at least ten. Will he or she take my place, will he like to play with my toys, will mom and dad let him play with my toys, will mom like her more than me, will I still be daddy’s boy? In each of these areas, older siblings feel out of control. It is only natural that they express their fears through regression, acts that express anger such as temper tantrums, and by putting time demands on mom and dad.
The best preparation is to re-enforce your son’s role in the family — especially his new role as older brother. At 21 months he is most likely ready to move into the responsibilities of an older brother, as long as he views this as a move up the family ladder. Talk to your son about the new baby by calling him “your little brother or sister” instead of “mommy’s new baby” or even “the new baby.” Try to use language that uses your son as the point of reference. In everything that you do, try to put yourself in your son’s shoes and think about this new arrival the way he would.
The first introduction of the two is very important. Have your son pick out a present to give to his new sibling and purchase a really cool present for your son’s new baby sibling to give to him the first time they meet. When your son arrives, plan for his new little brother or sister to be in the bassinette and not in mommy’s or daddy’s arms. If your son is interested in holding his new baby sibling, then by all means, help him do that. If he wants to exchange presents first, let him do that instead. As the older brother, let him set the pace with whatever makes him feel most comfortable.
In the days and weeks to come, you will not be able, nor would it be best, to let your older son rule the household. Some things that will make the transition easier are to establish a special one-on-one time each day with dad and the big brother, and mom and the big brother. During these times, let him set the agenda. Not only will he feel that he has some control in life, but you will discover important things about your son.
Some children regress after a younger sibling is born. The most common areas to be affected are eating, toileting, crying, and sleeping. The best way to deal with this is to give your son more attention for his positive big brother acts, than for his baby acts. Even negative attention can be motivation for acting “like a baby,” so make sure you only reward the behaviors you want to continue.
Many children, even sweet-natured ones, express anger toward their younger siblings. Your son may say that he hates his little brother or sister. If this happens, don’t say, “Now you know you are not supposed to hate anyone!” The reality is, he is experiencing intense emotions and needs your help to work his way through them. Help him grieve over losing his place as the only child in the family by saying something like, “It sounds to me like you wish things were the way they were before your baby brother or sister was born.” Often this will be enough to soften an older sibling — “Mommy, I wish you would hold me instead of him.” That is such an understandable way to feel! At that point the two of you can come up with positive ways to love his new baby sibling that won’t leave him feeling left out.
All of your lives will undoubtedly be changing with the addition of a little brother or sister. Along with the adjustments that may be difficult, there will be endless hours of joy for all of you as your questions are answered and you become a family of four.