Focus on the First Child
Kathleen Byrne, RN, suggests that parents maintain a focus on their first child during the transition. Like Flemke, Byrne is a nurse educator and teaches sibling classes at a hospital. Her course includes a video presented to children ages three through nine, which encourages them to explore the range of emotions they have about the new baby. Children who participate also draw pictures of what their new family will look like once the baby is part of it. Byrne notes that children awaiting the arrival of a new sibling may feel excited, insecure, unsettled, and angry all at the same time. Open communication and keeping children involved leads to positive feelings and eager anticipation.
Upon your newborn's homecoming from the hospital, present your child with a special gift—either from you or the baby. Keep a supply of big brother/sister gifts stashed in a closet to dole out if your older child gets left out as gifts for the baby arrive from well-wishers. Small goodies go a long way towards encouraging a pleasant association with the little one.
Make sure your first child's outside interests or activities continue despite the turbulence you experience as you readjust to caring for an infant. These may include preschool, gym classes, regular play dates or visits to Grandma's house. If your child is home all day watching you tend to the baby's every need instead of focusing on her, resentment is a likely result. Try to keep your child's routines intact and carve out special one-on-one time with her. Byrne advocates that parents leave the baby with a grandparent or trusted sitter as soon as possible after birth, so that they can enjoy a baby-free outing with their older child.
Sibling classes are available in many hospitals. Classes usually include a hospital tour so your child can know what to expect when you're in the hospital giving birth. Byrne explains that seeing where Mom will stay overnight often helps relieve a child's insecurities. Sibling classes "give the parent something to do just for the older child to prepare for the baby," Byrne says.
There are numerous children's books that teach kids the joys of being a big brother or sister through colorful illustrations and age-appropriate language. Here are a few titles for toddlers and preschoolers: What's Inside, by Jeanne Ashbe explains in simple terms why Mommy's tummy is getting bigger. I'm a Big Brother (Sister), by Joanna Cole, and The New Baby, by Mercer Mayer.
A new baby is a blessing for the whole family. Displaying a positive attitude and maintaining an open dialogue with your older child will promote a successful transition from only child to big sibling. Trust your instincts and let your child's responses guide you as you do the wondrous work of growing your family.