Most parents have mixed feelings about a new baby coming into a family with older siblings. They are partly overjoyed about having a new baby but also nervous about how their older child (children) would react to their new sibling.
Essentially, how your child reacts depends on their age since different age groups behave differently in this situation. So, here's how to handle this challenge, whatever the age group of your child or children may be.
AGE GROUP #1: 1-2 YEARS (TODDLERS)
Children of this age group are clueless as to what it means to have a new sibling; their young minds cannot grasp all that is happening around them. What you need to do is:
Let your older child hear you talk excitedly about the new baby. Children at this age do not have a concept of their world since their minds are still developing, and they are exploring. They thus learn by observing others. So, as your child begins to feel your excitement about this baby, she will pick up your attitude too and become excited about his or her sibling.
Caring for your older child and the new baby may be a handful. Ask for some assistance from a partner, relative or trusted friend, so one child does not feel neglected and gets the needed attention too.
Do something special for your older child when the new baby is born. You can give them a gift, take them out or throw a party for them. Do anything to reassure them of your love for them.
Help your older child understand the concept of a new baby. Let them look at picture books or board books about a new baby. They will begin to form images of babies and even pick up words like 'sister' or 'brother' or 'baby'. There are a lot of children authors who have written books about how children adjust to this new family situation. Below is a list of children's books you can get from Amazon:
- I Am a Big Brother by Caroline Jayne Church
- I Am a Big Sister by Caroline Jayne Church
- My New Baby by Rachel Fuller
- Waiting for Baby by Rachel Fuller
- Big Sisters are the Best by Fran Manushkin
- Mama's Belly by Kate Hosford
AGE GROUP #2: 2-4 YEARS (PRESCHOOLERS)
Preschoolers are still attached to you and are usually the age group to watch out for. They are pretty selfish and jealous and may not like the idea of sharing you with another sibling. They may even have a hard time adjusting to this new family situation or even feel threatened by the presence of a new baby. Here's what you need to do:
Wait at least until your second trimester before you tell your older child about the baby. By then, your bump will be showing, and your preschooler will start asking about your growing belly out of curiosity. Once the cat is out of the bag, let them read picture books about new babies. Some medical facilities also offer sibling classes for older children to help them cope. Find out about these and book one for him or her.
Warning: Make sure your older child hears about the new baby for the first time from you and nobody else.
You have to be straight forward with your older child. Explain to him or her how fun and exciting it will be to have a new baby. But also let them understand the other side – that the new baby will come with a lot of responsibility and will also need time and attention. Let them also know that it will take some time before they can play with the new baby. This is also the right time to let them know that you will always love them the same as before even though you are going to have a new baby.
Make your older child a part of your pregnancy like you would your spouse or partner. One way to do this is to get them involved in the planning or preparation for the arrival of the new baby. For instance, let them tag along when you go shopping for baby things. Let them help you decorate the nursery. Buy them a doll to play with (if she's a girl), so they start learning how to care for a baby. Show their baby pictures.
Make some changes in your child's routine. Be sure to toilet-train your child. Let him or her also switch from sleeping in a crib to a bed as soon as possible. You need to get your child to learn these things before the new baby arrives. You may not have time to teach him or her if you are occupied with the baby. On the other hand, your child may feel overwhelmed having to adjust to these changes in addition to getting used to a new baby.
During this time, it is normal for your child to backslide a little or pick up some bad habits. For instance, your child may leave a mess when they use the loo. Some may want to go back to using a feeding bottle. Know that this how your child is trying to make sure he or she still has your love and attention. Don't scold him or her for this kind of behaviour. Let him or her have all the attention. Do, however, give him or her a pat on the back when he behaves maturely.
Get your older child prepared for your stay at the hospital. Let him or her know that you will be staying for some days at the hospital and that you will be back with the baby.
Make some time out of your daily routine to do fun things with your older child. Read, play games, watch some animation or just talk. Make him or her realize that you like to be around him or her too. You can even make him or her a part of your baby's routine. For instance, you can let him or her cuddle close to you when you are breastfeeding the baby.
Get your family and friends to spend some time with your older child when they come to see the new baby. It will make him or her feel that he or she is still loved and a part of everything.
Share the load. Let your older child spend more time with your spouse. Having a new baby coming on board creates the opportunity for a dad to bond more with his older child.
AGE GROUP #3: 5 YEARS AND ABOVE
Children who are five years and above are the least threatened of all the three age groups. For one thing, these children are more matured and understanding of the situation. This makes it easier for them to make adjustments. You may be surprised though, that they will hate the new baby getting all the attention. Here's how to cope:
Let your older child understand the situation. Explain it to him or her as best as you can. Let him or her be aware of the change the arrival of a new baby will bring to your home. But let him or her also appreciate the joys of having a new sibling.
Get your older child to assist you in getting things ready for the baby. With preschoolers, let them help you with shopping for baby items, packing your hospital bag or decorating the baby's nursery.
If he or she is old enough, you can have them come visit you at the hospital as soon as the baby is born. This will make him or her not feel left out of everything.
Make him or her also responsible for caring for the baby. Let them hold the baby when you are busy with something. Make sure you have taught them how to carry a baby, though. And also, make them ask you before they can hold the baby. Give them a thumbs-up when they do a good job taking care of the baby.
Though you may be busy with your new baby, do make time to attend to the needs of your older child too. Spend quality time with them and always reassure them of your love for them.
By Nana Ama Afoa Osae I Writer I GreatWonderful Team
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