The prospect of gaining a new baby sibling can be both exciting and worrisome for a child. A new baby in the family will change her position in the family, it may change her bedroom, and it most certainly will change the amount of attention she gets.
Your verbal and nonverbal communication with your child during your pregnancy and in the early days following birth can make a big difference in her adaptation and acceptance of the new sibling.
That communication, of course, begins when you break the news, which needs to come directly from you. A child can be upset to learn from someone outside the family that a new baby is coming. Sharing the news yourself enables you to frame it properly, issuing plenty of reassurances in the process.
For children who are very young, 18 months to two years old, introduce the news slowly, particularly as you start to show. Older children can handle the news earlier and will likely want to talk in great detail initially and intermittently throughout the pregnancy.
When you do talk, explain what it means for the family and how it will affect older siblings. Take time to tell your child what it means to be an older brother or sister and answer questions as they arise.
A valuable communication tool in preparing children for the birth of baby siblings is to reminisce with them what it was like when they were born. Share happy or funny memories and express the excitement and joy you found in their birth and infancy.
As you prepare for the baby, let your child be part of the experience. Take him with you to shop for diapers and other baby supplies. Let him help you decorate the nursery, pick out clothes and choose toys for the new baby. Engaging your child in the preparations can help create a sense that have a new sibling will be a positive experience.
It’s also important to manage the child’s expectations as much as possible. Explain that babies aren’t very good playmates at first, that they mostly just cry, eat and sleep. Also, let your child know what to expect when the baby comes: who will stay with her, how long Mom will stay in the hospital and whether she’ll get to visit. When you are establishing expectations for your child (and yourself), acknowledge that things may not go as planned.
After the sibling’s birth, it will be important for you to pay extra attention to the older child, especially when so many others are paying great attention to the baby. Verbalize for others how great your older child is too, then demonstrate that with extra hugs and special one-on-one time without the baby around. That can be hard to do with a new baby in the house, but even ten or 15 minutes spent reading a book can offer great reassurance to a child whose world has just changed dramatically.
In these tired, challenging times, remember, you’re setting a pattern for future behavior. Before you know it, your precious baby will be a toddler tagging along after his big brother and building a friendship that will last a lifetime.
As published in the July 2005 Edition of the Holmen Courier and Onalaska Community Life.