Helping Your Others Children Adjust to the New Baby
If you have other children, you should prepare them for the new arrival and also plan ways to help them get accustomed to having a new baby in the house. Their adjustment, in fact, will probably be greater than yours, since you did most of your adjusting with your first child.
The time to start preparing your other children for the new baby depends on their ages. Toddlers have no conception of time, so talking about a new baby before your seventh or eighth month will only make the wait more difficult. You can tell a preschooler of 3 or 4 when he begins showing an interest in your growing abdomen. He may also ask questions if he hears you discussing the topic. However, preschoolers, too, have limited time conception, so the wait can seem endless if you start talking about the baby too soon. Older children can be told immediately and be involved in the preparations for the baby from the beginning.
If your children are going to attend the birth, they will need further preparation. Many facilities offer sibling preparation t classes. This may be either a short class providing basic information and a tour of the facility, or more detailed instruction. (For a discussion of this, see “Children at Birth” .)
Most children love to look at their baby pictures and hear the story of their own birth. By sharing these with your other children, you can assure them that the same excitement and anticipation surrounded their arrivals as well. You can also use these stories to paint a realistic picture of what the new baby will be like. Many young children expect a ready-made playmate and are greatly disappointed when they find a baby who does little more than eat, sleep, wet, and cry. If you have friends who have young babies, take your preschooler to visit so that he can get an idea of what babies are really like.
If you still have a toddler sleeping in the crib that you plan to use for the baby, move him to his “grown-up” bed at least 2 months before your due date. Dismantle the crib and put it out of sight until the baby is born. This way, your toddler will not feel that the baby has stolen his bed. In the same vein, do not take away stuffed animals and baby toys from your older child and give them to the baby. Let him do this when he is ready. He is going to feel that the baby has taken over as it is. Do not add to his distress by asking him to give up some of his possessions.
During Your Hospital Stay
If possible, have someone whom your child likes stay with him at your home when you go to the hospital. If this is not possible, have him stay overnight with the person who will care for him before your due date so that he does not become frightened when you go to the hospital or birth center.
Call home at set times each day to talk to him. Do not be upset if he refuses to come to the telephone. He might feel angry that you left him. He might enjoy it if you hide several small toys or treats around the house before you leave, then give him directions to find one each time you call.
Take advantage of sibling visiting hours at your hospital. You can ease your child’s anxiety about your absence and give him a chance to meet his new brother or sister. Celebrate the baby’s birth day with a cake and a O candle, and maybe even gifts to the siblings from the baby.
When you arrive home from the hospital or birth center, let your husband carry the baby into the house so that your arms are free to hold and cuddle your other child. You may be amazed at how big he suddenly appears to you. If you like, bring him some gifts. Visit and play with him. Wait until he asks to see the baby, then satisfy his curiosity by letting him touch, hold, and talk to (and about) this new family member.
Jealousy is a fact of life and cannot be completely prevented. It is usually stronger in children under 5 because they are more dependent on their parents and have few outside interests. Older children adapt more easily because less of their time and interest is centered on the home. You can lessen feelings of jealousy in your preschooler by spending time alone with him each day. Make the baby’s morning naptime your preschooler’s special play time, during which he can do whatever he wants. Children also enjoy doing special things with Dad—a trip to the park or lunch at a restaurant can be a special treat for a child of any age.
Another way to decrease a preschooler’s feelings of jealousy is to give him a doll to play with so that he has a “baby” to take care of while you take care of yours. Also, keep little wrapped gifts on hand to give him when friends bring presents for his new brother or sister. Letting him help you take care of the baby, even in little ways, will make him feel like an important member of the family.
Keep a close eye on 3- and 4-year-olds. They are wonderful “helpers,” but sometimes they attempt tasks that could endanger the baby. The preschooler may try to pick up and carry the baby, or even attempt to get the newborn from the crib. Putting the infant in a playpen is often helpful just to protect him from a sibling’s “help.” The older child may try to share his food with the baby or try to change his diaper. Also, keep baby supplies out of his reach so that powders and creams are not available. Place a baby monitor near the infant and keep the receiver on or near you. That way, you can be aware of any unwanted “assistance.”
If your child shows anger or other negative feelings toward you or the baby, encourage him to talk about them. Tell him that you understand these feelings and, in fact, even feel them yourself sometimes. Assure him that you love him, but tell him firmly that you cannot allow him to strike out at the baby. Give him a substitute—for example, a punching bag, or a hammer and peg- board—that he can use to vent his anger safely.
Expect some regressive behavior on the part of your toddler or preschooler. If he is not already potty trained by the time the baby is born, wait at least 4 to 6 months or until you are sure that he is ready. Wet or soiled pants, and requests for the breast or a bottle are common. If you look at the situation from his point of view, it makes sense. He reasons that if the baby gets so much attention doing these things, he will, too. Let your child try to nurse or drink from a bottle if he wishes. Most children do not remember how to nurse if it has been a while. After a few attempts, he will realize that it is not much fun and will head off to do something else. Rarely, a toddler who was recently weaned may return to breastfeeding for a time. If you are uncomfortable with allowing your child to nurse, express some milk into a cup for him to taste. This may satisfy his curiosity.
Use the baby’s feeding times as moments to share with your older child. Read a book, share a snack, or play a quiet game. If your child uses feeding times to act up, prepare a basket of special toys and treats that he can have only at those times. In this way, he will feel as important to you as the baby.
Support the side of your child that wants to grow up. Give him a chance to be proud of his maturity, and make comments that foster his self-esteem: “You do that so well.” “You are such a help to Mommy.” Remind him that there are disadvantages to being a baby—babies cannot play ball, go to birthday parties, or eat ice cream, for example. Have lots of patience and be prepared for the adjustment to take some time.