Prepping Your Child for the New Baby
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.
All Baby All the Time
An essential component of the sibling class, Truesdale says, is to provide parents with a proper vocabulary to use with their children when talking about the new baby. Take cues from your child about when you’ve talked enough about the new baby or are pushing too hard. “It’s OK if the child doesn’t want to talk about it now,” Truesdale offers, urging parents not to dwell on the idea is the child isn’t willing. “Let him come to it on his own.”
“I think people really have to listen to the older child,” Robinson concurrs, saying that parents shouldn’t shame the firstborn kids who aren’t happy about the baby, or even express a dislike for the infant. “It’s important to work through.” In these types of situations, parameters must be set. “Be clear about what’s going to be tolerated,” Robinson adds. Hurting the baby or asking that the baby be sent away are not options, and an older child should know that.
Even parents need to emotionally prepare themselves for this transition. And the parents have to be ready to face their own feelings of sadness for their first child.
“A mother realizes that she’s losing [time with the older child] and she mourns time with that child,” Brazelton says. “Mom needs to get used to that.” Truesdale echoed Dr. Brazelton’s sentiments saying, “Some parents feel so guilty when they look at the older child. . . . They have all these feelings, like, ‘Am I going to have enough time for this child?’” That’s why in Beth Israel’s refresher childbirth course, Truesdale focuses on parents handling guilty feelings about the older child and translating these feelings into positive actions.
Here’s a compilation of tips from an array of child developmental experts on preparing an older child for a new sibling:
- Let the child know he’s not going to be replaced by a new baby.
- Make sure to include first-borns in decisions around the house involving the baby, like how the nursery will look.
- Use phrases like “our baby” or “your baby.”
- Don’t start “talking up” the baby too early in the pregnancy.
- Choose books that are appropriate for the child’s age to prepare for infant’s arrival.
- Review photos of when the child was a baby and talk about what he was like as an infant.
- Show the child how to role play with dolls and practice changing diapers and bottling.
- Have someone take the child out of the house before you get home with the baby so when the child comes home, you can embrace her.
- When visitors come to the home, make sure your older child isn’t ignored.
- Make sure the child understands that breastfeeding is a natural way for a baby to eat. And encourage your older child to sit next to you with a toy or book so he won’t feel left out while you’re nursing.
- Make sure there is alone time for the older child.
- Acknowledge that it’s natural for the child to feel jealousy or anger, but urge her to talk about it.
- Get the child involved in the baby’s care, by asking for help with the diaper, bottles, and baths.
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