Prepping Your Child for the New Baby
You look into the eyes of your three-year-old child and feel a crushing sense of guilt.
“How could I do this to her?” you ask as you rub your burgeoning pregnant belly. “What if she doesn’t want a new baby? What if she feels like she’s being replaced?”
Parents expecting a second child typically go through a wide gamut of emotions. While they’re excited about the prospect of a baby in the house again, they fret over the impact the new bambino will have on their older child. Sometimes they choose to ignore the issue and just “surprise” their firstborn when the baby comes home. At the other end of the spectrum, some talk so incessantly about the anticipated birth that the older child—who can’t understand why it’s taking so long for this new kid to arrive—gets sick of all the baby talk.
What’s a parent to do?
A delicate balance, say child developmental advocates, a tender dance that tells your first child that not only is she still loved and isn’t being replaced, but that there are going to be a whole new set of realities at home.
But how parents deal with the impending arrival of a new baby should truly depend upon the child’s age, experts warn. You don’t want to get into graphic details about amniotic fluid and vaginal deliveries with a two-year-old toddler who can barely grasp the fact that the food he puts in his mouth goes into his belly. At the same time, physicians say you should involve an older child as much as possible so he feels like this is his baby, too.
Start a Dialogue
“No amount of explanation can really prepare [an older child] for the feeling of having a real, live demanding baby in the house,” writes the late renowned pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock in his famous book, Baby and Child Care. “Your job is just to begin the dialogue about having a new brother or sister, where the baby will sleep, and what the sibling’s role will be in his care and to provide constant reassurance that you love him as much as ever.”
Nationally known child development expert, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton agrees, saying that parents have to be careful about how they go about preparing their firstborn for the baby. “Don’t make a big thing of it in advance,” said the Harvard Medical School professor and pediatrician at Boston’s Children’s Hospital. If you tell a child about the baby too early, he will get impatient waiting for the pregnancy to progress, Dr. Brazelton says. “To prepare them too far ahead, it just loses value later on,” says Dr. Brazelton, author of the book Touchpoints, (which devotes a section to this topic).
Jeri Robinson, Vice President of Early Childhood Programs at Boston’s Children’s Museum, experienced this process herself recently when her five-year-old grandson got a new baby brother. “We did a lot of talking about babies and what they do,” says Robinson, who coordinates a parents’ resource room at the museum. When her grandson’s mom was about five months along and the family was talking about the pregnancy, discussions began with the soon-to-be older brother about how the baby would bring big changes to his life.
Having the firstborn actively participate in the process is important, Robinson says. For example, if the baby will be staying in the same room with the older sibling, get that older child involved in how the room will be arranged and what will go where. “Don’t just go in there and kind of bulldoze,” she adds.
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