This column in produced in partnership with Mommy & Me, which is dedicated to providing parents and children with fun and simple ways to make the most of the time they spend – laughing, loving and learning – together.
by Cindy Nurik, Ed.D.
Having a new baby is one of the most rewarding experiences in life. For a young sibling, however, a new addition to the family may not be entirely welcome. In fact, most children will be downright jealous. And they will certainly let you know how they are feeling – often through some quite unpleasant behavior.
Accepting a new sibling is especially difficult for children between the ages of 1 and 3-1/2, because they are still very dependent upon their parents. Some reactions are more acute than others and should be monitored. If they become severe, consult your pediatrician.
What can parents do to help prepare an older child for the arrival of a new baby at home? This is a common question among parents. Being prepared for what lies ahead will make the transition go more smoothly. More on Siblings from Mommy & Me
13 signs to watch for.
More on Siblings from Mommy & Me
Take Mary Jo, for example. She wasn’t prepared for her 3-year-old son’s reaction to his new baby sister, so she shared with us an idea that worked for her:
Bobby wanted me to play ball with him, while I was feeding the baby. He became very upset with the new baby and felt rejected because I was giving the baby attention. He started to cry. I needed to do something to turn this upsetting experience around. I told him that as soon as she finished her bottle, he could play with her. I gave Bobby a little ball that I had bought for the baby. I told him to give her the ball and he could play with her. His eyes lit up! And he felt like a big brother. Of course, I took a picture of their first play date together!”
Here are some more ways you can make the adjustments easier and more fun for everyone. This special time you spend together growing closer will last a lifetime!
• Spend time role-playing with your child. Buy your older child her own baby doll that is just for her to play with. Teach her that a newborn baby is very tiny and delicate. Let her practice holding, feeding, bathing and diapering the baby. The two of you will have fun playing mommy! Praise her for a job well done!
• Decorate the nursery together. When you decorate the nursery, let your child draw or paint a special picture to hang near the diapering table. This will not only let him feel included in all the preparation, but he will take pride in making something special for his new baby.
• Enroll your child in a new-sibling class. Most hospitals have new sibling programs for families expecting a new addition. Children love to attend these classes. They’re fun and the children learn a lot about becoming a big sister or brother. Also, being with other children in the same situation helps them feel supported. After the class is over, go for some ice cream or a special treat!
• Encourage involvement. There will be a great deal of disruption when you bring the new baby home. Let your toddler help out as much as possible. Even though you do all the right things to prepare her, expect some regression. She may revert to baby talk, or want to have her bottle back. This is a natural response, and it will not last very long. Allow her to indulge playfully in this behavior, rather than scolding or punishing her. Be sure to continue to cuddle, hold, hug and kiss your toddler even more than you did before. Reserve special one-on-one time just for the two of you. Whether you play, read or have a meal together, this special time will go a long way toward maintaining the bond the two of you have already built throughout the years.
• Read together. Children love being read to, especially when the story is about them. Take a trip with your little one to the library or a local bookstore and find the many books about becoming a big brother or sister. Enjoy the feeling of closeness that spending time reading together will bring.
As you can see, there are many ways to prepare your child for the new arrival. Understanding and being aware of the challenges that lie ahead will make this transition in your life more enjoyable for you and your entire family.
Mommy & Me author Cindy Nurik, Ed.D., is a family therapist, a specialist in early childhood education, a playgroup pioneer, mom and author of Fun with Mommy & Me (Dutton, 2001).