Here are some developmental factors to keep in mind:
• Two- to 3-year-olds can be quite self-absorbed and into the “mine” stage. They have a tendency to be inflexible, domineering and resistant to change.
• Four-year-olds are more social and verbal. They aren’t as clingy, since they’re making friends and there are more diversions.
• Five- and 6-year-olds are more independent of their parents.
• Pre-adolescents may have a difficult time with a new baby because they are going through so much change in their own development.
No matter what the age, parents need to acknowledge beforehand that kids have conflicting feelings about the prospect of a new sibling and that those feelings are normal.
Preparing for Change
• Tell your older child about the events leading up to his or her birth and how excited you were. Look at the child’s baby photos or videos.
• Take your child to some of your prenatal doctor appointments. Let him listen to the baby’s heartbeat.
• Enroll your child in a sibling class.
• Make any necessary changes in family or home life before the baby arrives, including having your child spend more time with Dad and changing bedrooms if necessary. Tell an older child that she’s moving out of her crib because she’s growing up, not because the baby is coming and you need the crib.
• Let your child decide where to put the crib and which toys she wants to lend to the baby. If there’s something she wants to hold on to, let her.
• Don’t oversell the baby before it arrives. Be realistic. Explain that the baby will cry a lot, sleep a lot, eat and poop.
Helping Siblings Adjust
Once you bring your new baby home:
• Give plenty of attention to your older child. Have someone else hold the baby so you can hug him. Give lots of extra hugs during this time.
• Suggest ways for the child to interact with the baby, such as helping with diapering, playing with the baby or talking to or making funny faces at the baby.
• Your new baby will probably get many gifts. When possible, encourage friends and family to get a little something for your older child too, acknowledging his or her status as a big brother or sister.
Here are a few titles you can use to help older children understand and accept a new arrival in the family.
• The New Baby, by Mercer Mayer, Golden Books, 2001. Little Critter experiences joy, frustration and acceptance when his baby sister is born.
• The New Baby at Your House, by Joanna Cole, photos by Margaret Miller, HarperTrophy, 1999. Multicultural photos show real-life kids and their variety of experiences with their new siblings.
• What to Expect When Mommy’s Having a Baby and What to Expect When the New Baby Comes Home, by Heidi Murkoff, illustrated by Laura Rader, Harper Festival, 2000. These two picture books for preschoolers answer all their questions about the family’s newest member.