A new baby is exciting, but the youngest members of the family might not fully share your joy. To them, it’s kind of like adding a new actor to an already successful play. Not only do you have to change the background and increase your performances, but your lead performer may not be too happy sharing the limelight.
Here are some ways to help set the stage for an award-winning production:
You can do several things with your child to get ready for the new baby. These activities keep your child involved in the process and allow him more time to adapt.
n Reminisce and wonder. Share your favorite memories with your child, then together try to guess what the new baby will be like. For example, "When you first came home from the hospital, you loved to cuddle in my arms, but your sister didn’t like cuddling. What do you think the baby will do?"
n Toy shop. With your child, go through her baby toys. Help her pick out ones she thinks the baby will enjoy. This will be difficult for some children, but it is important for your child to have opportunities now to express her feelings.
n Field trip. If your doctor allows visits from siblings-to-be during appointments, plan one during a quick check-up. If you are lucky enough to have a friend who recently had a baby, see if you can set up a visit. Most hospitals offer a sibling tour or classes. Kathleen Sheridan, department chair for early childhood at National Louis University in Chicago, says this can give your child an idea of what to expect.
n Baby proof the house. This is a great activity to do together and a perfect time to share some of the positives of being the older sibling. Have your child crawl around to look for hazards you can’t see standing up.
As a parent, you want your child to be excited about the upcoming arrival.
Sometimes to help ease the transition, parents focus too much on positive activities that will happen some day, saying things like "the baby will play ball with you and build with you." However, the reality for now is that the baby will eat, cry a lot and sleep even more. Instead, try to paint a realistic picture of what to truly expect.
The first time you see your older child after the delivery is such an important time. Even though you are tired, your child will need reassurance. Here are a couple of tips to make things go smoother.
n Plan for a quick first meeting with the new baby. Try for a time when your older child will be well rested and fed.
n Have someone else hold the baby when your child first arrives. Your arms need to be free for big hugs. If possible, have someone else in charge of the baby so you can devote your energy to your older child.
n Take lots of pictures of your older child. Your baby won’t change in the first five minutes, but your other child will go through a range of emotions. Don’t miss it.
n Give your older child a chance to explore his new sibling. He might want to hold her or just look at her. Don’t force it if he wants nothing to do with her, he has a lot going on just now.
n Allow your older child to pick out a new toy for the baby. Depending on his age, have him make a card to go with it. Then he has something to give the new baby during their first meeting. Also, have a special gift from the new baby to her sibling. Attach a card that shares how lucky she is to have a big brother like him.
Your family will have lots of people interested in your newest arrival and your older child could feel left out. Let her introduce the baby to visitors. Help her find a job perfect for her. Then she can share, "This is my new brother, Grant. I get a new diaper for him when he gets stinky."
Original cast party
The first few weeks after coming home with a newborn are tiring and intense to say the least. It is vital, though, to make time every day to spend with your older child. Even 10 minutes a day from each parent could provide needed reassurance. This is a great time to do big sibling stuff like baking cookies, bicycling or playing games.
Before the baby arrives, Sheridan suggests putting together a box of items your child can do on his own (books, puzzles, coloring books, maybe a new toy or two) for times when you are busy with baby.
Adding a new actor to your family production can be difficult. No matter how much you plan or how many potential problems you defuse, you can’t foresee them all. Your family is going through a major change that will invoke strong emotions.
"Really listen and hear what your older children are saying to you. If they are expressing negative feelings, don’t deny their feelings, but acknowledge them," Sheridan says. Just because your child says something unenthusiastic about the baby doesn’t mean you have to fix it. Sometimes he just needs to know that you hear him.
Read up before the big day
There are hundreds of books about families getting ready for new babies. Most favorite characters offer a "new baby" book. As with any book for children, look it to make sure you agree with the author. Here are just a few books your family might find helpful.
• What to Expect When the New Baby Comes Home, by Heidi Murkoff
• A New Baby is Coming! A Guide for a Big Brother or Sister, by Emily Menendez-Aponte
• I Used to be the Baby, by Robin Ballard
• Big Sister Now: A story About Me and Our New Baby, by Annette Sheldon
• Dear Baby: Letters from Your Big Brother, by Sarah Sullivan
• Love That Baby! by Kathryn Lasky
• Hi New Baby! by Robie H. Harris
Amber Beutel is a teacher and mother of two living in Grayslake. She is expecting her third child soon.
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