by Twigtale expert Allison LaTona, MFT
The first time you came home with a newborn, it was new, exciting, totally unfamiliar, and downright stressful. Now… you are about to have another (or maybe you just had another) and while it isn’t new to you, it is certainly new to juggle two, and it is often a big adjustment for your older child.
It’s all those emotions that you felt when you had the first, in a child who is working hard to make sense of his or her own emotions and the big new change in the family. So how do you prepare your child for the new baby and help him or her adjust?
Preparing During Pregnancy As children are often in the moment, with little-to-no grasp of the concept of time, it is difficult for your toddler or preschooler to understand what’s coming in the future. It is therefore best to hold off from talking too much and too far in advance about what your child can expect in having a sibling.
When you do begin talking about it (usually when physical changes become more obvious), it’s important to focus on what your child can expect to stay the same, such as your visits to the park together, playing trains in their room, etc. Follow your child’s lead in terms of their interest in talking about the new baby and keep it simple. Children also love to hear stories about what they were like as a baby, which can be a great way to talk to your child about what to expect, as it is through their own experience that they can connect more directly.
It is also important that parents leave room for the child to make relationship with their new sibling at their own pace, rather than putting forth expectations such as “you will love being a big sister”.
The Big Day: Bringing the Baby Home Ok, let's get down to logistics. Typically during the middle of your third trimester it will become more difficult to not talk about the baby coming soon. Preparing your child with the plan for when it is time for the baby to be born will be important to ease your child’s adjustment to the changes.
We know that when children know what to expect, it creates a sense of security and control, which helps them to make transitions more easily. Giving your child concrete information about the plan, while addressing their inevitable feelings, will smooth their adjustment tremendously. Mommy’s going to be gone while the doctor helps the baby come out, a favorite caregiver will be there, and when mommy and daddy come back they will have more jobs, yet enough love to share with all.
Any additional changes such as in the rooming situation or extended family staying with you can be detailed as well. Reinforce what stays the same (e.g., their routine) and the more that stays the same, the better.
“You’re having BIG feelings” Your child will be feeling a range of emotions, from anticipation to excitement to jealousy and confusion. Remember they have been the singular focus of your attention for their whole little life!
To experience your new inward focus and less energy with pregnancy, as well as not having you home for a few days (possibly for the first time ever), to bringing home a new baby who captures your attention that they must now share ... all of these changes bring about many feelings. While your child may not be able to verbalize his/her feelings, you may see them reflected in regressive behaviors, such as with new sleep challenges, clinging, potty accidents, or aggression. You may have to help them find the words to understand their feelings. If your child is old enough to share their feelings, it will be important to acknowledge and validate them.
Also, when you make it a priority to spend one-on-one time with your child both before and after the baby arrives (this is uninterrupted time of an activity of their choice), this conveys their importance to you. When you join your child’s world, it helps them fill up on you, eases transition, and minimizes regressive & disruptive behaviors.
A new role in the family Your child will now be a big brother or big sister to the new baby. As this is a new role in the family, you want to make sure your child gets off on the right foot. It may take some time to warm up to it all, so be patient. It’s important to be mindful about not putting undue pressure on your child about this role.
Again, follow your child’s lead. Your focus should be on creating a loving, cooperative sibling relationship, rather than one that is rivalrous and competitive. Without preparation, it’s easy to fall into the instinctive trap of lots “no’s” and “don’ts” to protect the baby- “Don’t take the baby’s toy,”… “No hitting”. Pretty soon your child may resent the baby.
Instead, you want to be sure to reinforce the positives, and focus on what your child CAN do, rather than what they cannot do: “You can wash the baby’s feet (instead of “no washing her face”), you can kiss his/her forehead (instead of “no kissing the baby’s lips”). Redirecting your child’s efforts to connect with the baby into positive action will give your child a sense of control in the midst of change, as well as strengthen the sibling bond.
And it doesn’t hurt to have a T-shirt or a present for your child when the new baby comes. Before you know it, you will have a child who’s proud to be a big brother or big sister.
Summary: Preparing your child for a new baby The most effective method that I share with parents is to make a book incorporating these points. Read the personalized story to the child often, so they can make sense of the change, and feel secure with preparation to ease the adjustment. When we bring language to the emotions, we create a calm response, as both sides of the brain can integrate the information and find balance. This is the goal for your child.
The most important thing is to show your child love throughout the process. Ultimately you want to reassure your child, both through telling and then through actions, that love expands as the family grows.
For more posts like this, subscribe to our FREE newsletter, which includes parenting tips, latest books, and discounts.
For more on Allison, check out http://www.twigtale.com/author/allison-latona-mft. For more information on Twigtale, click here -- http://www.twigtale.com. To browse our books, go to http://www.twigtale.com/our-books.
Allison is a noted parenting consultant and psychotherapist. Her work empowers parents with the vision and tools to create thriving and fulfilling family lives, and fosters long-term connections within a supportive community.
Allison has nineteen years of experience counseling children, families, couples and individuals, and has facilitated groups in private practice, as well as at Santa Monica’s Babygroup with Donna Holloran, MSW, for over a decade. With fourteen years “in the trenches” raising two young children of her own, Allison’s personal path complements her professional credentials.
Twigtale helps you make personalized photo books to help your children through important developmental milestones and difficult transitions.
Preparing your child for a new sibling was originally published on May 10, 2013. Modifications to style, arrangement, and linked sources were made on January 11, 2016.