To try and minimise the upset to your existing child(ren) there are steps you can take to prepare your child for all the change, by discussing the pregnancy in terms that make sense to them, by carelful planning and including your child in the care of the newborn, you can make the transition a little easier for the entire family. This post will hopefully give you some good ideas to help your toddler / pre-schooler understand what is happening and help them to look forward to the new baby as much as you are.
To start with, at some point you need to tell your child that you are having a baby, when you do this is up to you. If it is important to you that you tell them rather than them finding out from someone else this may need to be sooner rather than later, we told our four year old after the 12-week scan, mainly because we didn't want him telling people before we did! Young children find it hard to understand the length of a pregnancy so it is a good idea to frame the baby's expected arrival time around fixed events - luckily for us we had our eldest's birthday, then our youngest's birthday and then the baby is going to be born; our four and two year old both seem to have accepted this and are now aware the baby could be born 'any day'. Talk to your children about the new baby by calling him "your little brother or sister" / "our baby" instead of "mummy's new baby" or even "the new baby" so that they know that they are not being replaced but that the baby is someone special to them.
Some activities for during your pregnancy that can help your child prepare for their new sibling are:
- showing them their baby pictures and how they've grown
- reading books about new babies; for example - The New Baby
- visiting friends who have babies
- letting them sort out baby things
- asking their advice about potential baby names
- letting them come to antenatal appointments and involving them in measuring the bump / listening to the baby's heartbeat
- making a scrapbook of baby pictures from magazines, showing nappy changing, baby feeding, sleeping, crying etc
- making a 'birth' day cake
You may find it helpful to involve your child in the decisions about what is going to happen to them during the time you are having your baby. Explain to them what will happen if/when you go to hospital, who is going to look after them and when they will be able to see you. Also discuss the fact that the midwives and doctors will look after you and the baby so you will be ok, in talking to our four year old we found he needed reassuring that these people worked at night so it was ok if the baby was born at night time.
Try to keep your older child(ren)'s routine as regular as possible in the days and weeks surrounding the baby's arrival. If you plan to make any room shifts to accommodate the baby, do it a few weeks before the baby's expected due date. If your older child is approaching any major milestones, like potty training or moving from a cot to a bed, you may want to make those changes well in advance of your due date, or put them off until after the baby has been at home for some time. Some children regress after a younger sibling is born, the best way to deal with this is to give your son more attention for positive big brother / sister acts, than for the baby acts - even negative attention can be motivation for acting "like a baby," so make sure you only reward the behaviours you want to continue. It is important to encourage your older child to talk about feelings they may be having about the new baby. If your child cannot articulate his or her feelings, don't be surprised if he or she acts out by knowingly breaking the rules or reverting to whining or speaking in baby talk. If your child misbehaves, don't bend the rules, but understand what feelings may be motivating that behaviour. It may be a sign that your child needs more one-on-one time with you. Let your child know that although his or her feelings are important, they have to be expressed in appropriate ways.
You might want to plan for your child(ren) to visit you in the hospital as soon as possible after the baby is born and to 'bring their baby' home to show other visitors. The first introduction of the new baby is very important, you might want to have your son choose a present to give to his new sibling and have presents from the baby for the big siblings to exchange the first time they meet. When you introduce the new baby, plan for his new little brother or sister to be in the crib and not in mummy's or daddy's arms so that you can cuddle your older child.
Once the baby is born there are some things you can do to help your older child to adjust to all of the changes. First, it's a good idea to include your child as much as possible in the daily activities surrounding the baby, so that they doesn't feel left out. Your child may be willing to help take care of the baby or they might enjoy role playing with a doll. There will be occasions, for example during breastfeeding, that your older child can't be involved with the baby, and you may find it useful to have toys on hand (last time we had a special box of books and toys that were just for feeding times) so that you can feed the baby without being interrupted or worrying about your older child feeling neglected.
Also remember to try and take advantage of any opportunities for one-on-one time with your older child(ren). Spend some time together while the baby is sleeping and if possible, set aside some time each day for your older children to get one parent's undivided attention. If your child knows that there is special time exclusively for him or her, it may help reduce any resentment or anger about the new baby. You may also want to remind relatives and friends that your older child might want to talk about something other than the new baby!
Have you got any other ideas to share? Please let us know!