What! You're having another baby, Mom?
Parents should take steps to help siblings adapt to a new arrival
When Kathy Kobzeff became pregnant with her son, Matthew, her older boy Josh was 21 months old. Like many second-time parents, Kathy worried how her toddler would respond to having a new baby in the house.
“My biggest concern was that Josh was going to feel less special and not as important, like he was when he was the star of the show,” says Kathy, who lives in Fountain Valley with her husband and two sons, who are now 6 and 7 years old.
A new baby – whether it’s your first, your second or your 10th child – brings challenges and excitement to any family – and a few worries. It’s natural for parents to be anxious about how their older kids – toddlers in particular – will react to the new little one.
Kathy’s solution was to include and involve Josh in all aspects of the new baby’s care and activities. “He was excited at first but was devastated when he realized that Matty wasn’t going anywhere,” Kathy says.
Dr. Marni Nagel, a pediatric psychologist at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, says the issue is more than one of jealousy – it’s a matter of the older child adjusting to new family roles and dynamics. “It’s a time of transition. Transitions can be challenging, but there are definitely things you can do to help minimize that challenge,” Nagel says.
She suggests parents include their toddler when introducing the new baby to visiting family and friends. Parents can let the toddler make the introductions. “The toddler can also be very helpful. Usually, they love to be helpers,” Nagel says.
For example, a toddler can bring Mom or Dad a clean diaper for the baby or retrieve a bottle from the counter and bring it to Mom, Nagel says. She also suggests reading books to your child about new babies on the way, sharing sonogram photos of the baby so the older child can see it, letting the toddler feel the baby kick in Mom’s belly, and listening to the baby’s heartbeat together.
Including her older son worked well for Kobzeff, who had Josh help her with all aspects of her new baby’s care.
“I had him entertain Matty in the morning while I pumped. I had him grab me diapers and wipes when I had to change Matty, which he excitedly did, and had him throw the diaper away in the Diaper Genie. I would tell him how important his role was as a big brother to be gentle with Matty for now because he was squishy and not as strong as a 2-year-old like himself.”
Katharine Simon, a psychology intern at CHOC, suggests that parents talk to their older child about what the baby will be doing, such as nursing and sleeping a lot. Parents also can show the child their own baby photos.
Finally, Kobzeff notes that kindness is learned and that the teaching starts at home, with parents setting the right example by modeling kind and gentle behavior. Now that her boys are older, she says the brothers are close and “They have each other’s backs and I’m proud to say that they are extremely kind kids with other people too.”
What the experts say
suggestions for preparing older siblings:
• Let your child hear you talk about the new baby and feel your excitement.
• When the new baby arrives, do something special for the toddler to reassure her she is still loved.
• Ask your hospital if it offers a sibling class.
• Explain to your preschooler that the baby will be cuddly but will also cry and take Mom’s and Dad’s time and attention.
• Involve your older child in planning for the baby. Let your toddler place something special in the nursery for the baby that is from them.
• Buy your child a new doll or stuffed animal so he or she has a “baby” to care for too.
• Ask relatives and friends to spend a little time with your older child when they come to visit the new baby, so the older child feels special too. Equally important, make sure that Mom and Dad also create some special time just for the older child.
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics