Getting ready for a second baby can be just as overwhelming and exciting as your first pregnancy. You are a pro at some things like changing diapers, feeding, taking care of a cranky and sick baby. But there are new hurdles to cross, like preparing your firstborn for the new sibling. The first few months after the baby's birth can be exigent, as you have to take care of more than one kid. Your primary task would be to attend to your newborn, but do not forget to take into consideration your older kid's wants and concerns. When you break the news of your pregnancy to your older kid(s), you may get a myriad of emotions, from being ecstatic, to nervous, to downright hostile! Funnily enough, in certain situations, you might not get a reaction at all. It's nothing to be alarmed about. Children like a routine, and a new baby signals a change from that. We, as adults, also take time to adjust to a new environment. So it's but natural that a preschooler will take a much longer time to understand and change to this new family dynamic.
How to Prepare Your Child for a Sibling
Sharing the News
- Tell your child about your pregnancy yourself, before he comes to know about it from others. Kids are very curious, so they are bound to ask where the baby comes from. You do not need to get into minute details. Most will be satisfied when you say "the baby will come from mom's tummy."
- Keep in mind that it's best to let your child in on the secret before you are ready to share the news with the world as well.
- Be prepared that the initial reaction might not be that of pure happiness. On the other hand, the news may well be greeted with a feeling of resentment. This is but natural, because a new family member implies to your older child that he will no longer be the center of attention for his parents. Acknowledge your child's reaction. Do not disregard your child's feelings. Arrival of a new baby can be an emotional upheaval in your child's life, especially if he is under five, so do not panic if he expresses a negative attitude towards your pregnancy.
During the Pregnancy
- Talk to him about babies as often as possible. Read age-appropriate books on pregnancy and newborns, and encourage them to voice their doubts and concerns.
- If your preschooler is heading toward any major milestone, put it off until after your newborn is a few months old. Potty training, new school/day care are all major aspects and may require your full-fledged attention. If you are thinking of moving your older kid into a new room/bed, either do it in the first two trimesters of your pregnancy so he is well-adjusted to sleeping by himself, or just hold off till your baby is a few weeks old. Do not make this transition immediately after the baby's arrival, since this will make the older kid feel left out and neglected.
Preparing for the New Baby
- Make it a point to involve your kid whenever you are preparing for your baby. This will make them feel special and important. Ask their opinion when you choose items like clothes, crib, and even baby names for that matter! Ask them to help out when you pack your hospital bag.
- If your friends have infants, or two or more kids, visit them often, so your kid can see for himself how a family with a baby feels like. If you like the idea and your friends permit you to, then have your child enact the role of the big sibling to the infant. Under adult supervision, have him hold, feed, and play with the baby. When your child gets a feel of the real thing, he knows what to expect.
- If possible, take your child to your prenatal visits and have him hear the heartbeats and view the ultrasound. This way he will be excited to actually connect with the baby. Find out if the hospital offers classes for siblings-to-be. Such classes offer orientation to would-be older siblings, and even gives them a chance to air their feelings about pregnancy and the new baby.
- Once you start feeling the "kicks", have your child feel them too, it's often a great way to build a close bond between your child and his unborn sibling. But do not force the child, if he does not seem interested initially.
- Buy a doll and play "baby" with your older child. Teach him how to handle and hold the doll, and let him practice.
After the Arrival of the Baby
- Your firstborn should be the first family member, other than your partner, who meets your newborn. Without too many family members around, he will react naturally when he actually makes eye contact with the baby. This could be an emotionally consuming moment for him, so be in tune with his feelings.
- A new baby definitely calls for lots of gifts! Arrange for some special "big brother" or "big sister" presents from the older child to the baby, and vice versa.
- Involve them in the daily care of the newborn, like cleaning, changing diapers. Ask him/her to fetch fresh diapers and clothes. Accept their help if they want to dress the baby or push the stroller around. Kids will feel very important if you tell them how great it is to be a big sister or big brother, and how lucky you are to have them around by helping to take care of the baby.
- A common effect noticed in older children after the arrival of a sibling is regression. They may act like babies, wanting to be fed and held, may cry incessantly, and even wet their beds. This is perfectly normal, and you need not worry about it. The focus of attention has now changed to the baby, and this is the older kid's way of reclaiming it! Never scold your child if he shows signs of regression. All they really require is extra attention and a few more hugs to set things straight.
- Most importantly, make sure you set aside some time each day for your older kid. Amidst all the frenetic activities that ensue after the baby's arrival, it is easy for your toddler or preschooler to feel lost. Initially, till the baby is just a few days old, enlist the help of a close relative your child is comfortable with, and ask them to take care of the older sibling. Once you get into a set pattern, make sure you and your partner spend a few minutes with your firstborn everyday. Maybe during this time, you do not want to discuss baby with them, but other things like day care/school, their friends, daily activities, etc.
- Remind visitors to inquire about both your kids, not just the baby. Often, friends and family bring gifts only for the newborn, and this can really dampen a child's spirits. Ask them to be equally attentive toward the older sibling.
Kids will take time adjusting to a sibling. Some might just naturally adapt themselves into the role of big brother/sister, while others may be a bit reticent about the change. Remember patience, and a whole lot of love is all you really need to pull through this phase. After all, it's not just a new sibling you have provided your older kid with, but a friend for life.