Children face their own set of challenges when a new baby comes home, so preparation for that day is vitally important. The first step is telling your child that they will soon have a little brother or sister. It’s best to do this at the same time as you plan to tell other friends and family so that everyone hears it from you first. For children who are old enough to understand, provide a kid-friendly timeline: The baby will be here around Christmas, just before school ends for the summer, or right after daddy’s birthday.
Since children younger than two and a half years don’t have a true concept of months passing, it’s best to wait for them to notice something different about you before telling them. If your child hasn’t asked by the beginning of your third trimester, fill her in then. Regardless of how you decide to tell your child he has a new sibling on the way, it’s best to wait until the first, critical three months have passed before mentioning your pregnancy.
After you share the news with your child, she can begin helping you prepare for the baby. Each week of the pregnancy, choose one or two activities that your child can assist with. The child will feel more involved if she is helping you choose birth announcements, decorating onsies with fabric paint, and even hearing the story of her own birth. The point is to consistently remind your child that this baby is coming, but you’ll still love her just as much as you do now.
Every parent dreads the “Where do babies come from?” conversation, but with the very young child, it’s best to just obtain a couple of age-appropriate books that gently explain about pregnancy and birth. Always remember to use the correct terminology when discussing reproduction with your child. (For example, the baby is in the uterus, not the tummy.) It’s also a good idea to watch a DVD, read a book, and have a lot of conversations about becoming an older sibling. Always encourage your child to ask any questions that she may have.
Because a new family member a major (although welcome) stressor for the entire family, you may want to make major changes in your child’s life at least a few months ahead of time. Giving up a pacifier or bottle, ending thumb-sucking, and toilet training are all major changes that may backslide a bit after the baby comes home. Just do your best to keep your child on track a few weeks before your due, making any necessary changes to her routine before your baby arrives. (Daycare, nursery school, or a babysitter will be easier for your child to adjust to before the changes at home begin.)In the last few weeks before your baby arrives, regularly babysit for someone who has an infant. This will give your child a chance to get use to having a baby around, and will also give her a chance to learn how to be gentle toward the baby.
Once your baby is home, arrange for your child to spend time with other adults; She’ll get the individual attention she has been missing, and you’ll have time to care for your newborn. This is a good time to provide your child with realistic expectations: She won’t have a playmate for awhile, because infants do little more than eat, sleep, and cry.
It’s necessary to take steps to reduce or prevent confusion, frustration, and jealousy in your child once her new sibling is home. When you, your partner, and the baby arrive home from the hospital, have someone else carry the infant into your home. Run up to your toddler for a big hug and a kiss. Wait for her to become interested in the baby before introducing your child to her new sibling.
Since friends and family will be stopping over for a few weeks with gifts for the baby, it’s nice to have some small gifts for your older child. Wrap up small, inexpensive toys, crayons, and books for your child to open when receive a gift for the baby. This way your older child won’t feel left out when the baby continues to receive gifts.
Make sure you set aside short blocks of one-on-one time with your older child every single day. These usually occur while the baby is sleeping, and provide a good chance to explain to your child that she will always have a special place in the family as the first born.
No matter what challenges arise in helping your child adjust to a a new baby in the family, remember that they will only be this little once, so enjoy it while you can.