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Preparing Your Child For A New Sibling - (Back To Baby Info)

The arrival of a new baby can cause lots of sudden change in a family. Before the baby is born, parents typically spend a lot of attention and energy on preparations. After the baby arrives, much of the family's attention involves meeting the newborn's basic needs.

All this change can be hard for older siblings to handle. It's not uncommon for an older sibling to resent the newborn for grabbing the spotlight and to react to all this upheaval by acting out.

There are steps you can take to prepare your child for all this change. By discussing the pregnancy in terms that make sense to your child, taking care of some logistics, and including your child in the care of the newborn, you can make the transition a little easier for the entire family.

During Pregnancy

There is no one right or wrong way to tell your child about the new baby. There isn't any one right time to have that discussion, though the longer you give him or her to adjust to the concept, the better.

When you're discussing the pregnancy with your child, you may want to let your own comfort level and your child's maturity level steer the way.

It's a good idea to explain the pregnancy on your child's terms. If your child is in preschool, for example, he or she may not grasp concepts of time, so it may not mean much if you tell your child that the baby will arrive in 9 months. It may be more useful if you explain that the baby will arrive in a particular season, such as winter, when it's cold outside.

How do you know how much detail to provide? Let your child's questions be your guide. For example, a 4-year-old child may ask: "Where do babies come from?" Despite how it sounds, the child may not be asking you to explain sex. The child may just want to know where, literally, the baby comes from. It may be enough to say: "The baby comes from the uterus, which is inside the mother's belly." If your child wants to know more, he or she will ask.

If your child shows more interest in the baby, you can do activities together to encourage that interest, such as:

  • going through your child's baby pictures
  • reading books about childbirth
  • visiting friends who have infants
  • packing a bag for the hospital
  • thinking of potential baby names
  • going to the doctor to hear the baby's heartbeat

You may also want to find out about sibling birth classes, which many hospitals offer to provide orientation for soon-to-be siblings. These classes can include lessons on how to hold a baby, explanations of how a baby is born, and opportunities for your child to discuss his or her feelings about having a new brother or sister.

Planning for Childbirth

As your due date draws near, it's a good idea to make arrangements for your older child for the time that you're in the hospital. You may want to share these plans with your child, so he or she knows what to expect when the day arrives.

You may also want to plan to have your child visit you in the hospital as soon as possible after the baby is born. It's a good idea to do this when no other visitors are around to reinforce the sense that he or she is an integral part of an intimate family event.

Try to keep your child's routine as regular as possible in the days and weeks surrounding the baby's arrival. If you plan to make any room shifts to accommodate the baby, do it a few weeks before the baby's expected due date. If your older child is approaching any major milestones, like potty training or moving from a crib to a bed, you may want to make those changes well in advance of your due date, or put them off until after the baby has been at home for some time.

Bringing the New Baby Home

Once the baby is home from the hospital there are some things you can do to help your older child to adjust to all of the changes.

It's a good idea to include your child as much as possible in the daily activities surrounding the baby, so that he or she doesn't feel left out. You may want to bring a small cot or bedding in your room, for example, so that the older child can sleep with the rest of the family. (Be careful not to make the cot too comfy, though, because you'll want your child to eventually return to normal sleeping arrangements.)

Your child may be willing to help take care of the baby. Though that "help" may mean that each task takes longer, it can give your older child a chance to interact with the baby in a positive way. Depending on your child's age, he or she may want to fold or fetch diapers, help push the carriage, talk to the baby, or help dress, bathe, or burp the baby.

If your child expresses no interest in the baby, don't be alarmed, and don't force it. This may just take some time.

There will be occasions, like during breastfeeding for example, that your older child can't be involved with the baby. For these times, you may want to have toys on hand so that you can feed the baby without being interrupted or worrying about your older child feeling neglected.

It's a good idea to take advantage of any opportunities for one-on-one time with your older child. Spend some time together while the baby is sleeping. If possible, set aside some time each day for your older child to get one parent's undivided attention. If your child knows that there is special time exclusively for him or her, it may help reduce any resentment or anger about the new baby.

You may also want to remind relatives and friends that your older child might want to talk about something other than the new baby.

Dealing With Feelings

With all of the changes that a new baby in the house can bring, it is not uncommon for these older kids to misbehave as they struggle to adjust to all of these changes.

Encourage your older child to talk about any angry or resentful feelings he or she may be having about the new baby. If your child cannot articulate his or her feelings, don't be surprised if he or she acts out by knowingly breaking the rules or reverting to whining or speaking in baby talk.

If your child misbehaves, don't bend the rules, but understand what feelings may be motivating that conduct. It may be a sign that your child needs more one-on-one time with you. Let your child know that although his or her feelings are important, they have to be expressed in appropriate ways.


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