Welcoming a second bundle of joy to the family means big changes for you and your young child. While parents think their child will be excited with the new addition, it’s also normal for a child to feel jealous, confused or worried. As you prepare for the baby, you can also prepare your child for the changes to come.
After revealing the news, your child may have questions. A local library or bookstore will have books you can read with your child about welcoming a new baby. Looking at your child’s baby pictures and letting your child know what he/she was like as a baby will also help your child understand what the new baby will be like (“You took a lot of naps and liked to be held”). Explain that the baby will need a lot of care at first (“We will need to help her”). If your child is interested, you can show how to hold and take care of the baby using a doll. Remember to also let your child know how special it is to be a big brother or sister (“She will learn a lot from you”), and that the baby can’t wait to meet him/her. If your child appears uninterested or has mixed feelings about the baby, reassure that the baby is not taking his/her place and that you will continue to love him/her as much as you do now.
As the birth approaches, involve your child in planning for the baby. You could have him/her help pick out items for the baby, or decorate the baby’s room with pictures. Decide whether you will have your child at the hospital when the baby is born, or celebrate the baby’s birth in another way. Whichever decision is right for your family, let your child know in advance what the day will be like, who he/she will be with, and when to expect to see you and meet the baby. At the introduction, have your child give the baby a gift, and open one from the baby.
When the baby comes home, having your older child spend time with the baby each day can help with the adjustment. Your child will need a lot of guidance on how to handle and play with the new baby. Show your child how to hold the baby and praise him/her for being gentle. If your child becomes aggressive with the new baby, set limits and be firm. Give a brief time-out to let your child know that hurting the baby is not okay. Once the time-out is over, supervise closely, but continue to have your child spend time with the baby, explaining how to be gentle. Remember that even though your first-born is older, he/she still may be very young.
As your family grows, you will experience many changes and a new baby is an exciting one. In the days following your baby’s birth, remember to set aside time each day to spend with your older child. Sharing your attention will be a difficult adjustment and he/she will need consistent, one-on-one time with you to feel reassured. While it may take a while for your child to feel connected to the new baby, your guidance and patience will help them become friends for life.
Please share insight in how to best introduce a new baby to your family. Are there any tactics that worked particularly well in preparing your older child for the new arrival?
Amy Beschta is a Family Counselor who works with children with and without a mental health diagnosis, and their families.