Is Your Eldest Ready for a New Baby?
Preparing Your Older Child for a Sibling
Oh, Brother (or Sister)
There’s a lot to consider when anticipating the arrival of a new baby. From the purchase of tiny diapers and miniscule nail clippers to the selection of the latest bouncy seat and play yard, it can be overwhelming—even when the baby on the way is Number Two. When expecting a second child, parents are challenged by a consideration that they didn’t have during their initial pregnancy: their firstborn.
While it’s completely natural to be anxious about how an older child will respond to having a new little person in her world, in many ways parents have the power to shape the way she feels about welcoming ten more fingers and ten more toes into the family.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Karen Strain, whose daughter Cecilia was two years old when Strain became pregnant with her second child, always referred to the new baby as “our baby.” “It helped [Cecilia] view her new brother or sister as someone we were anxiously welcoming into our family as opposed to someone who would in some way take her place,” says Strain.
When informing your child that he is going to be a big brother, sensitivity to the words you choose can go a long way. “Our baby” is a positive and inclusive way to refer to a new baby. Referring to him as “my baby” or “Mommy’s baby” may cause your child to become overly defensive of his position in the family and his unique relationship with you as his parents.
Become Parents Together
Not literally, of course, but many young children—boys included—love the idea of playing mommy. Purchase a baby doll for your child (a new one if necessary) and have a “naming party” whereby you officially name the doll, even make a birth certificate and put a mock hospital bracelet on its arm. When Suzannah Aftosmis was expecting twins, her mom bought her two-year-old daughter twin baby dolls—one boy and one girl. “We did a lot of role playing,” says Aftosmis. “Brooke would bring us bottles and diapers.”
Put together a supply basket for your child’s new doll consisting of a bottle, blanket, bodysuit, and any other supplies you feel are appropriate. While you are taking care of the new baby, your older child can care for her baby as well. In her mind, you’ll be doing something together as opposed to feeling as though you’ve left her to care for her new sibling.
Share This Time
The concept of a baby being in your tummy may be hard for a young child to understand. In many ways, this kind of ignorance breeds bliss because if big brother is too young to conceptualize the miracle in progress, he’s also probably too young to worry terribly much about the ways in which it might affect his life.
Krisi Monsivaiz, having done this a few times as a mother of four, advises pregnant moms: “Purchase a book that tells you each day about the new baby’s development. Read it aloud to your children. They often find such excitement in knowing that the baby now has ears or toenails.”
If you are comfortable doing so, include your child in your doctor’s visits so that he can hear the baby’s heartbeat. (And know that it’s perfectly normal not to be comfortable taking your child with you once internal exams begin; those can be confusing even for the person going through them!) Take your child to your ultrasounds with you. I have personally never been able to make heads or tails (literally) from an ultrasound monitor, but I took my daughter—who was then four—with me when I was expecting my fourth and final child, and she spent the entire time professing, “Oh, I think that’s the head. I think I see a hand. Yep, that’s a foot. That’s definitely a foot.” I just lay there saying, “What? Where?” So, in addition to including her, you may even need her to help you identify the various body parts of your unborn child.
Once the baby starts kicking, let your child feel his new brother or sister moving around. Talk to him about the way that his little brother or sister is already trying to play with him. This may encourage the bonding process between your older child and your unborn baby, and may increase his excitement over the baby’s actual entrance into the world.
Involve Your Child in the Preparations
To the extent appropriate, involving your child in the myriad tasks required to welcome home a new baby will make her feel important and connected to her new sibling. Ask for her input on colors for the nursery. Take her with you to pick out a special toy for the toy room or blanket for the crib. Smaller children can help select pacifier colors or bottle patterns. What’s important is that you involve your child in the process.
Another fun activity (which may be more trouble than it’s worth for a child under the age of three or four) is creating a belly cast. These papier-mâché kits, meant to be used toward the end of your pregnancy, allow you to cast your body’s shape from thighs to neck, creating a permanent mold commemorating this incredible time. Once the cast has dried, your child can help you paint or decorate it. Don’t worry—you don’t have to hang it front-and-center over the mantle. You don’t even have to keep it forever. If nothing else, it’s a fun family activity for a Friday night. Warning: the directions regarding applying copious amounts of Vaseline to the areas over which you’ll apply the papier-mâché strips should be followed to the letter. Otherwise, your child will also get a lesson in the pain caused by waxing yourself where you didn’t even know you grew hair.
Monsivaiz, whose children were six, four, and one when she became pregnant with her fourth child, found a special way to involve her six-year-old daughter. When she and her husband found out the gender of the baby, they wrote it on a card, sealed it in an envelope, and allowed Lauren to read it aloud to their family on Thanksgiving. “She was so excited to get to be the one who opened the envelope, and even more excited to finally be getting a sister,” remembers Krisi.
Krisi also gave each of her children their own disposable camera and small photo album so that they could take their own pictures of the baby and create their own memory books. “This helped them to feel connected to Avery, and it began the process of each child developing his or her own relationships with her.”
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