Some parents assume their child will welcome the new baby into the family with love, affection and delight. Others expect jealousy, hostility and misbehaviour. The truth is that both these reactions are extremes.
Most children will feel a wide range of emotions about their new sibling. After all, who wouldn’t be annoyed about losing so much of their parent’s attention…or be captivated by the soft snuggling warmth of a newborn’s body? Fortunately, there is much that parents can do to set the stage for a happy transition to becoming a two-child family.
Setting the Stage
Introduce the Idea
Long before you actually start talking about your new baby, introduce the idea that families often have several children. As you go about your daily life, point out families that you see, particularly those with both toddlers and babies. Promote the idea that this is a good thing!
Parents worry that they can’t communicate with pre-verbal children, but children understand much more than they speak. Just keep talking to them, using simple language and whenever possible, speaking about things they can also see. For example, point out a family with both a child and a baby as you talk about what families look like.
The nine months of pregnancy is a very long time for a child to wait, so if possible, don’t talk about your pregnancy until your child can actually see your body changing. But if you can’t keep yourself from telling friends and family, make sure you tell your child too. Even very young children “have big ears” and they will be hurt if they overhear discussions about a new baby that they know nothing about. Keep it simple at this point, but don’t let them find out from others.
If you normally care for your child at home, help her develop interests and friendships outside of your home before the new baby arrives. The reality is that with the new baby coming you won’t have the same amount of time to give her and you will also need time alone with the new baby. Fortunately, the coming of the second baby usually coincides with a toddler’s own desire for group play and she will usually welcome an opportunity to be with other children. She may be shy to start with, so use the early and middle months of pregnancy to introduce her to a playgroup a couple mornings a week or to form friendships with other parents of similarly-aged children who would like to exchange play visits. A well-established “independent life” will go a long way towards making your child feel like the “big” kid in the family and give her an outlet for her energy.
Make Changes Early
Children don’t really like changes, so try to organize it so that any changes in your child’s world are not blamed on the new baby. For example, if you need to move to a bigger apartment, either do it well before the baby arrives and avoid saying (even to other adults) that you’re doing it “because we’ll need more room for the new baby” or wait until several months after the baby has arrived and everyone has settled in.
Similarly, changes in routine, such as expecting the child to toilet train or stop breastfeeding or moving him from his crib to a regular bed are best accomplished well before the new baby arrives. New people are also an imposition on a child’s world, so if you are planning to hire a nanny, for instance, it would be best to bring her into your home either well before the birth or wait for several months after.
Once you’ve told your child that a new baby is on the way, answer his questions as he raises them, but if he seems disinterested, let it be. From his point of view the pregnancy will last a very long time and he probably won’t get interested until the last couple months (and perhaps not even then).
At that time you can introduce books and videos about pregnancy and birth appropriate to his age. Bring out his baby photos and talk about how excited you were when he was on the way. If you are planning a homebirth, or planning to have your child present at the birth of his sibling, make sure he is appropriately prepared (speak with your midwife or doctor). For a hospital birth, take him into the lobby of the hospital at the very least, so he’ll know where you are.
If she will be staying with Grandma for a few nights during the birth, make sure you have a couple practice overnighters and that these are pleasant experiences for her. If you are expecting to deliver your new baby at home or your child will be present at the birth, make sure there is someone she likes and trusts (other than her father) who will be specifically responsible for her.
Most young children like to be helpful so ask her to help you wash, fold and put away the baby’s clothes. Go shopping together for a new outfit for the baby and a new outfit for her to wear on the “birth day” too. As you make preparations, make her part of them, asking her advice about wallpaper patterns or new sheets. After all, she is much more likely to know what the baby would like than you are!
Be realistic about what new babies are like – avoid talking them up as “a playmate” because they won’t be for quite some time. Seek out opportunities to show your child what a newborn looks and behaves like. Children really like to know what to expect.
Alert your child to the idea that people make a big fuss over new babies. Show her all the pictures of Grandma holding her and aunt Jenn holding her and Cousin Justin holding her. Point out the things that were received as gifts for her and if you saved them, all the cards you received on her birth. Let her know that people made a big fuss about her as a baby, just like they will of the new baby. Tell her that if this makes her feel lonely and left out, you understand. Ask her to crawl into your lap and give you a big cuddle when she feels like that.
Even if it is the middle of the night, wake your child to tell him that you’re going to the hospital to have the baby. Remind him of whatever arrangements have been made for his care and assure him that you will see him in just a couple days.