By Riikka Melartin, Psy.D.
Many parents wonder how to prepare their child for the arrival of a sibling. Start by doing your best to not make too many changes at once, given that a new child in the house is a huge change in itself. Parents will be more distracted and tired, there may be more visitors, routines will be disrupted, and there will be noise and crying.
As an example, if you’re going to move your child from a crib to a bed, consider making that change it months before or after the new baby. Your older child should not feel displaced from a source of comfort and familiarity right when he or she might feel stressed and possibly jealous. Talking up the new bed, allowing the child to pick what kind of sheets or blanket they want, and setting it up without taking the crib down immediately (if you have room!) will all help with the transition.
Similarly, if you have nursed your child, it is better to have them weaned before the new baby or, if you are still doing an occasional comfort feeding, to continue it after the new sibling. If you have had special bed, bath or other routines, try to maintain them (or at least the most important one) after the new arrival.
Many hospitals have a class or workshop for older-siblings-to- be that can be helpful in preparing your child. My son went to one in which he watched a video, learned to diaper a life-like baby doll, listened to a story, and visited the newborn nursery. If you don’t have access to a class like this, ask your children’s librarian to recommend books and videos that you can share at home. If your child is going to visit you at a hospital or birthing center, it can be helpful to visit the facility beforehand, so that it doesn’t seem overwhelming or scary. And if people bring many gifts for the new baby, you may want to give your child a “big sibling” gift as well.
Don’t worry if your child regresses behaviorally after a baby arrives such as wanting to drink from a bottle when they have not wanted to for a while, or trying a pacifier when the baby does. If you don’t react negatively to it, or say they’re “too old” for this, the behaviors are likely to run their course. It is as normal to want to copy what the baby is doing as it is to copy what you’re doing (such sweeping or using a cell phone.)
As depleted as your energy may be after a new baby or child’s arrival into the family, try to find ways to have your other children continue to receive special attention. Sometimes this can mean having a spouse or another caretaker start to spend more time with them before the new sibling arrives, to get them used to not having as much of your time as before. If you have a partner, it can be ideal if both of you can take time off to be at home in the initial month to ease the transition and to make sure there is someone available for the older children as they’re adjusting.
You may not be able to, or may be a single parent, in which case try to solicit the help of friends or family in the first months to give you time to nap, provide you adult companionship, or help with your older child, errands, or chores.
Finally, enlisting your older child as a helper can make them feel important and engaged. Even toddlers can get a diaper from the other room, bring a bottle to the sink, help tape down a diaper etc. Helping mom or dad can reinforce the special bond they have with you instead of feeling displaced or jealous.
Presenting this transition and your child’s entrance into a new phase as a positive change to be proud of can help to compensate for any feelings of loss in no longer being the baby of the family.
Riikka Melartin, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who provides individual therapy, counseling, and consultation for clients who are diverse in age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Until recently, she also worked as a school psychologist. Look for her monthly blog post about child & adolescent therapy on www.commpsych.com.
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