The relationship between your older children and your new baby is very important. Preparing your child or children ahead of time for the birth of their sister or brother will help them adjust when the baby is born. Below are some practical suggestions.
Ways to prepare your older child for the new baby.
- Tell your child about his or her "babyhood" -- how he or she was born and fed, how you rocked him/her and shared many hugs and kisses.
- Show your child photos when he/she was being fed, held, and bathed as a baby.
- Let your child go with you to your prenatal visits (if that is acceptable to your practitioner). Have your child listen to the fetal heartbeat and feel the baby kick within your stomach.
- Give your child a new doll so he or she can practice caring for a "baby" too.
- Make arrangements for your child's care while you are in the hospital. Discuss these arrangements with your child well before the baby's due date.
- Prepare the baby's bedroom or sleeping area well in advance, so your child can adjust.
- Place a photo of the older child as a baby at child's eye level in the baby's room or where the family spends the most time.
- Talk with your child about what their new sibling will be like. Use books that show pictures of babies and discuss what babies can and cannot do.
- Develop a method of long-distance contact with your older child before going to the hospital. Some ideas are: call your child by phone so he/she will get used to the sound of your voice on the phone; write notes to your child to ask him or her to do small jobs; make a recording of you reading a story to your child.
Involve your child in preparations for the new baby. If your child wants to, let him or her:
- Help you pack your suitcase for the hospital
- Help select baby's name
- Help pick out baby's coming home clothes
Make the baby's homecoming a special event for the whole family.
- When you come home from the hospital, let daddy carry the baby so that your arms are open for your older child.
- Have a birthday cake and family birthday party to celebrate the new baby when you return home from the hospital.
- If your child wants to, let him or her help make birth announcements by drawing pictures, etc.
- Have your child pass out something special to friends announcing the baby's birth.
- Have your older child and baby exchange gifts. Your older child may want to pick out a special gift for the baby.
- Ask your friends and relatives to greet your older child before seeing the new baby.
Involve your child in caring for the new baby.
If your child wants to, let him or her:
- Fold or bring the diaper to you
- Help stock the baby's dressing table with diapers and supplies
- Help dress, burp, and feed the baby
- Smile and talk to the baby, especially when the baby is fussy (be sure to let the older child know you are aware that the baby is enjoying it)
- Hold the baby with supervision
- Share some (but not all) toys with the baby -- let your older child keep the toys that are very special to him or her
If the older sibling is not interested in helping with these activities, provide a planned activity for him or her while caring for the baby. Things you can do for your older child include:
- Bathe the new baby and older child at the same time if older child doesn't object.
- Assess the needs of your older child and plan to meet those needs before caring for the new baby.
Have a learning session for your older child.
- Undress your baby, talk about the different parts and functions of the body -- using correct terminology. Curiosity often can be satisfied by direct observation.
- Let your older child touch the baby as you emphasize "gently." Use the words "don't touch" as little as possible.
Allow your older child to verbalize negative feelings toward the baby or you.
- Tell your child that sometimes moms don't feel well during pregnancy. During those times and while you are in the hospital, dad and your older child may develop an even closer relationship. Take advantage of the developing relationship and encourage it.
- Talk, hold, and show affection to the sibling whenever you see signs of jealously or regressive behavior. Some children regress after a younger sibling is born. The areas that may be affected include eating, toileting, crying, and sleeping. Don't put your older child "down" because of his/her regression; rather, reassure your child and offer praise for his or her "big brother" or "big sister" actions and behavior.
- Praise positive behavior; ignore negative behavior. Reward only those behaviors you want to continue. You may want to use a task chart with gold stars to encourage positive behavior.
Remind the older child that he or she is special, too.
- Create a certain space in the home that belongs exclusively to your older child. Parents and baby should respect this space.
- Reinforce your child's role in the family, especially as the older sibling.
- Give your older child "seniority" by providing special jobs at home so he or she can contribute to the family.
- Be sure to praise the older child when he or she behaves well or does good work.
- Giving your child an allowance may also be important, depending on his or her age.
- Spend time alone with your older child throughout the day and especially at bedtime.
- Encourage your child to have a doll or stuffed animal to "take care of."
- Purchase small gifts for your older child. When visitors bring a gift for the baby, give a previously purchased gift to your older child.
- When friends come to visit the new baby, parents should include the older child in conversations or activities. For example, your older child could show the new baby to visitors.
- Provide a planned activity for your older child while caring for the baby.
- One or both parents should have a planned activity outside of home with only the older child. There should be a routine weekly outing for the sibling (park, restaurant, or library).
Encourage independent behavior.
Some children enjoy knowing they are more capable of caring for themselves and seek ways of becoming more independent as a response to the baby. Teach the older child independent behavior (at play, dressing, or toileting), as appropriate for your child's age.