Addressing some of the not-so-sweet aspects of having an infant around—like the crying, lack of sleep, spit-up, and stinky diapers—is essential, Robinson says, adding that you need to teach the older child how to cope with them. Pretending as though everything will be rosy isn't realistic. "Sometimes it's hard and sometimes it's easy," she points out.
The older child's main concerns are pretty basic, like who's going to be staying with him when Mommy is in the hospital, Dr. Brazelton reports. "Prepare him with the fact that he can call Mommy," he adds.
Having a child visit the hospital before the birth, including seeing babies in the nursery, is key to helping the firstborn through what can be a difficult time, says Marguerite Truesdale, a nurse at Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital and leader of a parent-education program.
Truesdale recommends that parents have their children—even those as young as one and one-half—attend a sibling class at the hospital where Mommy will deliver the baby in order to provide the youngster with some degree of comfort with the process. Classes at her facility are broken down by age group so younger children won't be overwhelmed with concepts that are too advanced for them.
The two- to three-year-old class at Beth Israel, for example, has very limited goals, Truesdale explains. "We want them to be familiar with the hospital so there's no fear." By having the child tour the maternity area and even see Mommy in hospital johnny makes the big brother- or big sister-to-be feel confident when the real thing occurs, she said. "They strut in [after the baby is born] and they know where everything in the room is, the phone, the TV," Truesdale shares. "Then when we say, 'We're going to the hospital,' it's not as scary." A Polaroid photo is taken of the older child so when the baby is born, that photo is taped to the baby's bassinet announcing that the older child has a younger sibling. Coloring books, which the parents take home and work on with their children, also try to gently broach the big changes that lie ahead, says Truesdale.
In classes for older children, there is role playing with dolls to help teach about the things Mommy and Daddy will be doing once the baby comes home. This allows the older siblings-in-waiting to take a stab at pretend bottle feeding and diaper changing.