You’re pregnant and thrilled. Junior, less so. After all, from his perspective, the little interloper’s already taking your time and energy. Nothing you can do will guarantee sibling bliss, but there are steps you can take to reassure your little one and minimize resentment.
Be realistic. “The experience is really not going to be quite as wonderful as we make it sound, from your child’s point of view,” says Kathleen Shea, RN, a Sibling Prep instructor at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, California. “They cry much of the time, mess up their diapers, throw up…Show picture books about babies and visit in a home where there is a new baby, so he realizes the baby is not an instant playmate.”
- When you’re too tired to trek to the playground or give a piggyback ride, don’t blame the pregnancy. If a new school or different bedroom is in order, make the changes before baby arrives. Don't give your child a reason to resent his new brother or sister before they're even born!
- “Giving young children ‘big brother’ or ‘big sister’ tasks can really decrease their sense of losing important parent time and attention and boost self confidence,” says Lorenzo Azzi, Ph.D, a psychologist at the Arizona Institute for Child Development. Explain that you’ll need lots of diaper-fetching and lullaby singing help.
Hospitals can be intimidating, so bring your child to a prenatal appointment, introduce him to your doctor, and take him on a tour of the facilities. Many hospitals offer “sibling prep” classes. Reassure your child that he can visit you in the hospital.
- Make plans for your older child’s care before you go into labor. Tell her exactly what will happen if you need to go to the hospital when she’s at school or asleep: “Auntie Susan’s going to be here making your breakfast, and then she’ll bring you to see me.”
- Have a special present ready for your child – a baby doll or an “I’m a big brother” t-shirt are ideal. You may also want to wrap an assortment of inexpensive gifts like toy cars, sidewalk chalk and plastic jewelry for him to open if friends send gifts for the baby.
- Explain that babies get a lot of attention, but it’s much more fun to be a big kid. Babies face the back of the car seat, they can’t eat ice cream, and they don’t get to play on the playground. Promise that even though you’ll be busy, you’ll listen if she ever needs to talk or feels she needs some attention.
If people ask what you need, tell them you already have baby supplies, but your older child would love a special card or phone call.
If, despite your best efforts, your child begins acting out, Azzi suggests addressing her underlying concerns rather than the behavior itself. The new arrival is going to change her world as well as yours; it may take time, but one day she’ll agree it was for the better.