The first two years establish the attachment phase of a child’s life. When they have your undivided attention with every need met, their world is a warm, safe and secure place. They’re comforted in knowing that your focus is entirely on them. As they grow a little older, the arrival of a new baby brother or sister means making certain adjustments such as “delaying gratification” and “waiting”, concepts that are all new to him. He has to realize that there is another family member who is as important as he is. Few experiences initiate this rite of passage in the same way as the birth of a new brother or sister. With the arrival of a new sibling, your older child has to understand what it means to wait and share. These social skills will be learned and understood early and will last a lifetime. During your pregnancy your toddler senses that something is different. Change could be upsetting to him, therefore, you as the parent can alleviate his anxiety by explaining to him the physical changes of Mom, the growth of his family and what to expect in the coming months ahead. First of all, keep it simple. You can tell your child, “When moms and dads love each other they can decide to have a baby.” However, it is best to tell children under two during the last trimester when your belly starts to show to avoid any confusion.
Involve your toddler. Allow her to participate by taking her along to your prenatal checkups so she can hear the baby’s heartbeat and see the sonogram pictures. Let her touch your belly when the baby kicks and take him on trips to stock up on newborn supplies. Find out if your hospital provides classes for expectant siblings so she can learn what a new baby is like. Make your toddler the star. Reminisce and replay his own infancy by going through his baby album. While doing this you can give him scenes to help get a sense of what to expect. For example, “Mommy will carry the baby a lot, just like I carried you” or “Tiny babies eat constantly like you did when you were that small.” Share the happiness. Remember, while you’re in the hospital your toddler will want to know where she and you will be staying and what he’ll be doing. Prepare him for whoever is your substitute while you are away. For example, tell him, “When mama is in the hospital, Nana will come for a sleepover and you can draw pictures to put in the new nursery.” Later, have your family members take your toddler along for visits to the hospital so he can experience the joy of his new baby brother or sister’s arrival with the rest of his family. Every child will react differently to the baby’s homecoming, but the following are some suggestions to promote positive sibling interactions. Keep in mind that their early days together set the foundation for a healthy long-term bond. Be nice twice. Before giving birth, wrap a few small gifts for your toddler so she can open them when friends and family lavish gifts on the new baby. This way, you allow her to share some of the attention the baby is getting. Encourage her to give the new baby a welcome gift from big brother or sister. She’ll be eager to give a gift like everyone else around her. Give extra praise. Don’t let your toddler feel neglected. Instead of saying, “what a beautiful baby”, you can say, “Now she has a beautiful big sister or brother.” Toddlers are fascinated with babies so you can use their interest by explaining what you think the baby is thinking. For example, say, “the baby is grabbing your finger so he must really like you.” This will allow him to reciprocate the act in a positive way. Highlight your toddler’s talents and celebrate each child’s individuality. Be generous in encouraging your toddler to be a good role model for the baby by saying something like, “John, this is such a lovely drawing! One day you’ll teach your baby sister how to draw and color.”
Equal opportunity is key. Although new babies are generally high maintenance, you can find ways to share with your toddler the time you spend caring for the baby. As he gets older, encourage him to entertain her like making funny faces, playing peek-a-boo or singing lullabies. Take time to allow your toddler to just cuddle, hug or touch you while your new baby takes naps. Make him feel loved in a special way such as telling him,” You are my favorite first child in the whole wide world.” More Daddy Time. As mom gets all wrapped up in caring for the little one, daddy can also take advantage of this time and bond more with your toddler. While the older child feels she has lost some of mom, she actually gets more of dad. Enter dad outings to the zoo, the ice cream parlor, the ballpark or just hanging out in the living room.
A New Friend! Try giving a new doll, a new teddy bear, or some kind of toy to your child just before the baby arrives. You can tell your toddler that he has someone new to add to his family of play friends, and suggest all the ways he can care for his new toy. These can mirror the things you will be doing for the new baby, and you can create some understanding and empathy for the newborn this way. When the infant needs to be changed, suggest that your toddler give their new toy a “diaper change” as well. By empowering your toddler and showing how important it is to welcome a new toy into the home and care for it, he may better understand your new role as well. Patience is a virtue. Face it, your toddler will show frustration and your job is to help them learn how to manage these negative feelings of anger, jealousy and sadness. Offer a trade-off, like, “John, now is not a good time but after I feed Timmy we can go bake your favorite cookies.” Make him feel important by constantly thanking him or her for all their help and for being a good big sister or big brother. No relationship compares to the strong bond formed between siblings. With a little help from mom and dad, siblings can grow up to be each others confidantes, buddies, partners in crime, BFF’s or compadres. They will have many friends as they go through life, but family and siblings are forever.
All information contained in this blog and on our web site(s) should be independently verified by you by a medical professional of your own choosing and you should always conduct your own research and due diligence before making any decision related to the subject matter of this blog or our web site.
Dr. Pearl Cenon
A pediatrician in private practice in New Jersey for over 15 years, Dr. Cenon (we like to call her Dr. Pearl) also has two children of her own. Dr. Pearl’s husband, Kevin McDonough is also a pediatrician and they work together. She writes basic posts about topics that interest many parents, from skin care and nutrition to seasonal issues, such as allergies and colds. Her kind, approachable tone in each blog post will have you looking forward to the next one.