How to Prepare Your Child for the New Baby
If you have other children, you'll want to prepare them for the birth of the new baby in a way that reduces sibling rivalry. How?
1. Cultivate the relationship between the older child and your partner throughout the pregnancy. When you're nursing the new baby nonstop, you want your older child to be excited about spending time with Dad.
2. Encourage your child's connection to the baby by:
- Referring to "Our baby" or "Your sister" or even "Your baby." The more ownership they feel -- and of course, the less they feel displaced -- the less jealousy they'll exhibit.
- Reading books about childbirth with him
- Taking him with you to the doctor to hear the baby's heartbeat
- Letting him pick out furniture, toys and clothes
- Letting him help you paint the baby's room
- Pondering potential baby names together (if you can let him "name" the baby with a name you love, all the better.)
- Packing a bag together for the hospital that includes a photo of him
3. Make sure your child knows he still has an important role in the family. He's always been the baby and he's about to be displaced. Now he's the big brother. But he's also the apple of your eye, and a capable "big" kid. Make sure you reinforce all the wonderful things about who he is and how he contributes to the family. "Josh, I love the way you help me," or "Sara, I love the way you make me laugh," which note specific contributions, help your child develop a sense of why he's still a valuable member of the family. Talk often about the fact that each member of the family is important in their own way and makes their own special contribution. The family needs each person for it to be whole.
4. Let your child express his full range of feelings throughout the pregnancy, birth, and afterwards, responding with empathy. Naturally he will feel some jealousy of all the time and attention you and everyone else are giving to the new baby. Reassure him with your words and actions that you adore him, and be sure to spend "special" time just with him each day. While it's fine to emphasize the advantages of being older, it's ok to reassure him that he will always be your baby, too, and to baby him a bit. Some older sibs will want to "play" baby, and that's fine. He won't regress forever.
5. Get any big changes out of the way well in advance of the birth, such as room changes, weaning and toilet training. She needs time to make these new routines into habits without associating them with the baby.
6. Keep your relationship with your older child as smooth and affectionate as possible, sidestepping power struggles and minimizing conflicts. She needs to be secure in your love to handle the arrival of a sibling with equanimity. Naturally she'll be testing you to be sure you still love her.
7. Emphasize the older child's specialness by going through his baby
pictures and talking about what a wonderful baby he was, and what a
wonderful boy he is now.
8. You might consider sibling birth classes, which offer lessons on how to hold a baby, explanations of how a baby is born, and opportunities for your child to discuss his or her feelings about having a new brother or sister. If you do this education yourself, be sure your child understands that babies cry a lot at first and aren't ready to play for a long time, but that the baby will always look up to big brother and want his attention and care.
9. You'll need to decide and discuss with your older child who will be with him during the birth itself. This can be a difficult time for the older sibling. Be sure he has the opportunity during a "trial run" to spend the night with whoever will care for him. For more info on preparing your child for the separation when you have the baby, click here.
10. You might consider having your older child be part of the birth process. My own 4 year old son came to the hospital with us and built a new lego during labor, and was present for the birth (up near my head, holding my hand.) He loved being present when his baby sister was "created," and has always been very protective of her. Of course, I expected an easy delivery like my first, and had arranged for a close family friend to be with us during labor and to wisk him away if the birth got complicated or he got bored. I had also prepared him by reading lots of birth books. Nowadays, there are great birth videos that are appropriate for children; see if you can rent "Gentle Birth Choices" or "Birth Day" from your local library to watch with your child. His reaction can be a useful indicator as to whether he's ready to attend the actual birth.
11. A classic way to prepare a child for observing a birth is to let him help you push a large piece of furniture across the room. Point out that making loud noises, straining and sweating helps you work harder, and that labor is even more work. It's important that your child know what to expect, including that the baby might look odd, that the cord bleeds when it's cut, and that it doesn't hurt baby.
12. If your child is not present at the birth, you will want him to visit you as quickly as possible after the baby is born, before other visitors. Emphasize your joy at seeing him, rather than your preoccupation with the new baby. Then let him sit and hold the baby, helping him to support her head. Dr. Lawrence Aber, a bonding expert, says that babies' heads give off pheromones, and when we inhale them, we fall in love, and begin to feel protective. The more your older child snuggles his new sib, the better their relationship is likely to be.
13. Privately ask visitors and family to give "big brother or sister" presents instead of "new baby" presents. It will help your oldest to feel like there's indeed something to celebrate. And be sure there's a special gift from the new baby to the older sib!