Preparing your child for a new baby may seem challenging, especially if your child has been the only child for several years. Accustomed to having your individual attention, your child may not seem thrilled at the prospect of soon having to share his parents with the little “stranger.” But there are things you can do to help prepare your child and teach them to recognize their own important role in the scheme of things.
Being open and honest with your child about the pregnancy and what can be expected is a good start. There are many books written that are all about the subject, but the most important people who are going to be guiding your child toward the acceptance of a new baby is you.
When you tell your child about the new baby growing in your tummy, make sure he knows that’s where he grew, too. Explain what’s going on in there – the baby’s body is working hard to become a full term infant, with a growing heart, lungs, bones, etc. Ask your child questions, such as, “Do you know what bones are for in our body? Did you know that lungs are what allow us to breath?” These questions will help your child know that his answers and thoughts are important and matter.
If your child is old enough, mark the due date on a calendar by circling it in red, and let your child X-out each passing day. Let your child know that it will be a long time before the new baby comes out of your tummy. Granted, nine months out of our life isn’t truly a long time, but to your child, it surely will seem like forever.
As your pregnancy progresses, your child will have questions about your growing belly. These questions can be answered with the help of photographs of newborns, showing them to your child while explaining that this is how big the baby must be before he can come out of your tummy. Point to your due date you’ve circled on the calendar and explain to your child that it will take at least until that day until the baby is big enough to come out of your tummy.
Sharing ultrasound photos with your child will help the baby be more “real” to your child. The photos will be easier for your child to decipher as it grows bigger. While showing the photos, ask your child if he can find the baby’s head, toes, and other areas of the body. This will feel like a game to your child, will be part of the overall lesson that the new baby is important, and still let your child know what he has to say is important, too.
After your unborn child starts to move enough for those movements to be felt, let your child feel the movement, too! If your child is feeling the baby move during the evening, make it fun by saying, “Hey, Baby! It’s getting late and it’s time to sleep! Settle down in there little one!” Let your child talk to the baby, too, by saying to your belly, “Hi Baby. I’m your big brother! My name is…..” Encourage your child to talk to the baby a lot, about anything. Perhaps your child will want to tell the baby some rules, such as, “We don’t run in the house,” or “We are never allowed to go in the garage by ourselves.” Your child will feel “big” by helping baby learn rules.
Schedule a tour at the hospital where you plan on delivering your baby. Let your child see a labor and delivery room. Point out how comfy the bed is, and how you’ll be able to watch TV and talk on the phone. Ask your child if they will watch TV with you when he visits you after the baby is born.
It is important that you also explain to your child, if he is old enough, that sometimes a mommy has to have surgery to get a baby out of their tummy. If you’re having a planned C-section, talk about this from the beginning of your pregnancy. But if you’re not, it’s still a good idea to talk about it so if it does happen, your child will be as prepared as possible.
Let your child help you when you go baby shopping. Allow him to pick out a few things for the nursery. He may choose a stuffed animal that you find hideous, or a small nightlight that clashes horribly with the nursery theme. None of that matters. What is more important is that your child will be able to proudly tell their new sibling that this is what HE picked out, all by himself.
Later in the pregnancy, let your child help you make a list of things to pack for the hospital. Buy your child a disposable camera and teach him how to use it, so he can take his own photographs when he comes to the hospital. These are photos he can use to create his own little photo album that’s just for him.
Talk to your child about where he will be when you go the hospital, so he can rest assured that he will be well taken care of during that time.
Including your child in discussions and planning throughout the pregnancy will help your child feel included.
After baby comes home is a time your child may really feel left out. Ask family members who plan on visiting to bring a small gift for the big sibling, whether it be a small toy or his favorite snack. Any small token will let your older child know he is still very important during this time and he is and will continue to get the attention he deserves and needs.
Arrange for friends and family members to take your older child some place special. If your child loves to go to the local kid-friendly restaurant, maybe Grandma and Grandpa can take him out a day or two after baby comes home. Perhaps a friend will be willing to have your child over for a play date. It’s during this time that your child may need extra time with Dad as well. Because you’ll have extra help from family and visitors during this time, Dad will be able to have one on one time with your older child.
Including your child in your new child’s life can and should be a continuing process. It’s very easy, and quite common, for an older child to feel jealousy about a new baby. The threat that a new kid in the house will take away all the time and attention of mommy and daddy is a very real feeling to your child. Your older child may even revert to baby behavior after the new baby moves in. My oldest daughter did this, being five years old when her little sister was born. She wanted to sit in the car seat and drink from a bottle, both of which she was very insistent upon. So the next time I fixed my newborn a bottle of formula, I fixed one for my five-year-old daughter as well, and have it to her. She happily stuck the bottle in her mouth, and after one taste of that formula, she threw that bottle down and gagged. Just the reaction I’d hoped for. She never again asked for a bottle or asked to sit in a car seat.
Having a new baby is the most joyous time in life. Sharing it with siblings makes it even richer.