Expectant parents with children at home need to prepare their children for the new baby, just as they physically and mentally prepare themselves.
Following are some suggestions for sibling preparation prior to the birth of the new baby and during the first few weeks after the baby is born.
Preparing Your Child for a New Sibling
When to Start
Time the beginning of your preparation according to your child's age. If your child is a toddler, wait until the seventh or eighth month of pregnancy. If you start earlier, the wait will seem endless because of the child's limited sense of time.
Three- to four-year olds are ready when they start showing interest in your growing abdomen. Older children can become involved in preparations immediately. Remember, you will need time to get in touch with your feelings regarding how the new baby will affect your relationship with your other child or children.
What to Discuss
First, develop a realistic idea of what babies are like in your child's mind. Your child may expect a ready-made playmate, not a small bundle that mostly sleeps, cries and wets.
Visit friends with newborns to let your child learn by observing. Children's books are also an excellent way to prepare children. They portray the newborn realistically and offer a chance to explore role changes and emotional reactions, which your child may experience.
Your child may be better able to deal with negative feelings towards the baby if he is aware that other children have similar feelings too. When discussing the new arrival, remember to convey the message that the new baby is an addition, not a replacement for the older child. Be careful not to use comparisons when talking about babies. Try to discuss "baby traits" and "older children traits" separately.
When delegating new responsibilities to your child, plan ahead at least two months prior to your due date. This way, your child will not view these responsibilities as something imposed by the baby's arrival. Likewise, if you are planning to move your child to a "grown-up" bed, do so two months prior to the baby's birth. Do not remove any baby toys from the older child's room. Instead, wait for your child to give them to the baby.
Resources to Help You
Check your community resources, beginning with your local library and bookstores.
Hospital tours of the obstetrics unit and sibling classes may be available to help prepare your child. Meriter Hospital offers family tours of the Birthing Center. Call (608) 267-6468 to arrange a tour. Meriter Hospital also offers A New Baby is Coming, a sibling preparation class for children ages four and older. 1, 2, 3, Baby and Me is a class available for families with younger children. Call (608) 267-6468 for more information.
Adjustments During Your Hospital Stay
Plan to leave your child with a familiar babysitter. Call home at regular times each day while you're in the hospital.
You may want to hide a few gifts and direct the child to one each day. Take advantage of the hospital's sibling visitation hours. Visit with your child alone, then bring the baby in the room. Carefully plan the length of the visit according to your child's age and attention span.
Adjustments at Home and Dealing with Jealousy
Jealousy, in varying degrees, is a normal initial reaction for children to experience with a new baby in the house. Here are a few ways to help ensure your child's feelings of security:
- After your hospital stay, let your partner or helper carry the baby into the house so your arms are free to greet your older child
- If you desire, bring home a baby doll for your child to care for as you care for the baby
- Allow some time every day to spend alone with your child
- Encourage your child to express feelings about your newborn
- Assure your child it's all right to talk about anger and other negative feelings. This allows the child to vent feelings that may otherwise come out as physical actions.
Remember, a child's response to jealousy is not always obvious. Anger may be directed at the parents or behavior changes may occur that are obviously not related to the baby. Subtle behaviors may include being overly good, being extremely protective of the baby, stuttering and persistent nightmares.
Dealing with Regression
Regression, returning to baby-like behaviors, is another common reaction of your older child to a new baby. For example, after watching the baby feed, the older child might ask to nurse or use a bottle. This may simply be an expression of curiosity. Let your child taste some of the baby's food while explaining that he now eats different foods. Express some breast milk or pour some formula into a cup and allow your child to taste it if he insists.
Toileting is another area where regression may be expressed. If your child is near toilet training age, train before the baby's birth or wait until the baby is 6 months old. In general, if given the opportunity to be a baby again, your older child will soon become bored and disinterested, and return to a more grown-up behavior.
Sharing is a concept children do not learn until about three years of age. Until this time, children play separately alongside one another. Help your children differentiate themselves from one another and from the parent. For example, do not use the word "we" when you mean "you". "You" forgot to put your toys away, not "we" forgot to put your toys away. Allow your child to make choices when possible, such as choosing which clothing to wear.