Welcoming a new baby into the family is a joyous occasion for parents. For siblings who are about to become “big brother” or “big sister” however, the new addition can bring anxiety, frustration, and confusion.
“Why don’t mom and dad play with me anymore?” Any parent who thinks that they will be able to divide their attention fairly between the new baby and the other siblings is kidding themselves. Babies are super time intensive and exhausting.
“It doesn’t look very fragile. Why can’t I touch it?” If you’ve had a toddler or preschooler and a baby at the same time you know it is inevitable that there will be poking, prodding, and a variety of other things that elicit a panicked “No!” from mom and dad.
A child’s world can easily be turned upside down during the time mom leaves for the hospital to when she comes home, bearing in her arms, a totally dependent and beautiful new soul.
Though my husband and I are no perfect parents, there are several things we’ve done to help our boys transition into this new chapter of our family journey.
- Download a pregnancy app. Most little kids are fairly adept at using mom and dad’s smartphones. What better way to help your kids begin to understand the new life developing in mommy’s tummy than by letting them keep track of baby’s development right along with you. My boys have loved looking at pictures of how baby is growing and developing. There are several free apps to choose from.
- Bring kids to your doctor’s appointments. Sound silly? You don’t need to bring them to all of your appointments, but taking them to a few will allow them to hear baby’s heartbeat. If you child is very verbal it will also bring up some great teaching opportunities.
- Help your kids learn to be more independent. If your preschooler or toddler is developmentally ready, you can prepare them for reduced attention from mommy by teaching to dress themselves, get snacks out of the cupboard or refrigerator, or potty learn. Be sensitive, if your child is not developmentally ready to learn a certain task wait a few months and try again. Note of caution: avoid telling the child that they need to learn these things for any reasons associated with the coming baby. This can engender resentment.
- Let your child take part in the naming process. Alright, I don’t mean let your son name your newborn “Magneto” like our 5 year old suggested. Rather, ask them how they like the various names you picked out; ask for their input.
When baby arrives
- Give your child a sense of ownership of the new baby. Don’t worry, you’re still the parents. You’re still in charge. But don’t be afraid let your child help you with the baby. Even a toddler or preschooler, if they are interested can help you change the baby’s diaper (hand you the diaper, wipes, etc.), wash the baby (wipe the baby’s feet or belly with a wash cloth), pat baby’s back to help burp the baby.
- Proactive praise goes a long way. “I love how soft you are with the baby.” “He really likes it when you touch his hand so softly.” “Thank you for helping Mommy take such good care of your baby brother.” “You take such good care of your little baby.” Knowing that they are valued will help big brothers and sisters develop a sense of pride in their new family role.
- Be calm and know that tantrums and anger are your child’s way of expressing their frustration and confusion about the changes. Even within the same family children will react differently to the addition of a new baby. Some children transition fairly seamlessly. Others dig in their heals and resist the change. My older son began throwing temper tantrums–something he’d never done before–when I was in my 3rd trimester. I could no long play with him like I used to and he resented it. When we brought his baby brother home from the hospital he patted the baby on the head, gave him a kiss, and asked, “Can we put him back in your tummy now?” Be patient, talk with your child (even toddlers can benefit from this), let them know that you understand their frustrations. Take a deep breath and know that the storm will pass.
- If you’re in the middle of a task or activity with your older child and baby starts crying, quickly finish up with your child and then go get baby. Unless it is an emergency, go ahead and quickly finish up with your child and then attend to the baby. This will help your preschooler or toddler not feel like they’re always being put off in favor of the baby.
What other things have you found that have helped your own children prepare for and accept the arrival of a new baby?