“I feel like I’m cheating on my daughter” shared Becca, about the baby boy they’d soon welcome to their family. She worried that her daughter would feel left out, hurt, or less-loved when her son arrived.
And she wasn’t entirely wrong. A lot of kids do experience those fears and feelings. They see their parents giving more and more attention and gifts to the baby, and they start to wonder if they’re less important than the baby.
Then, the kids’ responses to these feelings sometimes make things worse. “It’s perfectly normal for kids to express their aggression in infantile ways,” explains Dr. Darshana Lele, Clinical Psychologist and Director of Counseling at The Art College Center of Design. Dr. Lele elaborates explaining that a child may suggest naming the baby “Trash Can”, so the family can dump her in the trash can. Of course, if the parents respond angrily, this can reaffirm the child’s concerns.
What can you do to make this a much smoother process? Here are several tips, from Dr. Lele and from other sources, to help you prepare your older child, so you can hopefully have a smooth time when your new little one arrives:
- Explain to your child that a new baby is coming. Talk about the baby in your belly, and let your child feel the kicks. Have your child join you in singing to or patting your bump. Possibly, even bring her to an ultrasound appointment with you.
- Let your child express how they feel. Dr. Lele suggests saying something like, “Oh my gosh, you’re going to be a big brother/sister! How do you feel?” She encourages parents to let them express ambivalence. Also, when you respond, try to reflect back their own words as much as possible.
- Tell your child how special he/she is to you. Remind him that he’ll always be your first child, he’ll always be special to you, and you’ll always love him.
- Help your child to embrace their new role(s). “Explain that your child isn’t the baby anymore, that now they have a new important role as mom’s helper”, explains Dr. Lele. They also have a really important role as big brother or sister, and they’ll get to teach their younger sibling about the world.
- Expose your child to other babies. Try to visit a friend with a baby and a child close to your child’s age—that will help to make the paradigm more familiar when your little one arrives. If possible, also let your child see you holding other babies.
- Give your child a doll to practice holding. You can show them how to support the baby’s head.
- Read books with your toddler about families welcoming a second child.
- Show your child photos of when you were pregnant the first time. You can also show photos and videos of when your first child was a baby and at different stages of development (rolling, crawling, and walking).
- Plan a special gift “from the baby”. As your baby is showered with gifts and attention, you can decrease the likelihood of resentment, by giving your older child some extra attention and gifts, too. Some parents plan a special gift that the baby can “give” their older child at the hospital.
- Explain what to expect from the baby. For example, you could share, “The baby won’t be able to play with us at first, but we will be able to kiss her toes or hold her hand. She’ll mostly sleep, cry and eat. Babies cry because that’s the only way they can tell us what they need.” You can also explain that they will grow and do more over time, and can become a life-long play buddy and best friend to your child.
- Involve your first child in preparation. You can even let your older child make some of the (low stakes) decisions. Should we buy yellow socks or white? Where should we put this decoration?
- Try to avoid major changes as you approach birth or right after, such as new daycare, moving and weaning. If possible, try to do these things early in pregnancy or try to wait until your older child has a chance to adjust to the new baby. Likewise, if you plan to move the baby to a different room, crib or bed, try not to do it right before/after the baby arrives, so they won’t feel displaced by the baby.
- Check into sibling preparation classes at a local hospital for some extra tips.
So let’s go back to the frustrated child who’s just suggested naming their sibling “Trash can”—what can you do? First, acknowledge and reflect your child’s feelings. For example, you could say, “I see that you’re not sure we should have this baby”. Next, address your child’s real concerns, by reminding them that they’ll always be special—you’ll never forget them and you’ll always love them. Then, remind them that they’re so special, they now get some additional really important roles, like being big brother and mommy’s helper. Moving forward, look for ways to include them in the process and decisions, as much as possible. Next, try to plan some special time, attention or little gifts (especially if they’ve just seen the baby getting a lot of gifts) for your older child. Last, hang in there. You will all get through this.
And remember, this new baby really could be one of the best things—a life-long play buddy and best friend—that ever happens to your older child.
Thank you to Dr. Lele for her tips. If you enjoyed this article and you’d like to see more from Mama Lovejoy, you can “like” my Facebook page. You can follow @MamaLovejoy1 on Twitter, Instagram or Tumblr, check out www.mamalovejoy.com, or please share Mama Lovejoy with your friends. Thanks!!