Not everyone may be happy about that new baby
Few things in life are more joyful than parents’ anticipation of a new baby, but a first child might not second that emotion.
“For an only child, or for any child, it is a very big change,” said Janelle Laudone, MD, a pediatric hospitalist at Cape Cod Hospital.
The best way to prepare the older child, she said, is by talking to the child using language they can understand.
“Age-appropriate books can be really helpful to talk about what to expect with the new baby,” she said. “If you read those books together, it gives you some one-on-one time with the child and it gives the child an opportunity to ask questions.
“It’s important to be very honest in your answers to the questions. Talk about the good and the bad about having a baby brother or sister.”
Dr. Laudone recommended some age-specific tips prepared by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
For example, if you have a child that’s 1 or 2 years old, look at some picture books together in advance of the new baby’s arrival. That will help the child understand words like “sister” and “brother.”
Children who are a little older can be involved in helping to prepare for the new baby’s arrival, Dr. Laudone said.
“Have them help with simple tasks when you get the nursery ready or pick out new baby clothes,” she said. “Anything where they can participate and share in your excitement about having a new baby can make them feel special and excited.”
When the new baby arrives, older children may feel jealous of the attention focused on the little sibling. Older children will feel special if they get to visit the baby and the mom in the hospital, Dr. Laudone said.
“Once they get home, make sure that mom and dad each have some time one-on-one with the older child, so they don’t feel lost or forgotten,” she said.
Give Older Children Attention
“In the first couple days when you have a lot of friends and family members visiting, make sure they spend some time with the older child, so the older child doesn’t think everyone only cares about the baby. Don’t let them feel forgotten or overlooked.”
Any age is OK for brothers and sisters to hug and hold a newborn. “As long as it’s supervised, I think getting the older children to spend some time with the baby is a very good thing,” she said.
Whether it’s a boy or a girl, a child can learn about interacting with a baby by playing with dolls.
“You can have the older child care for their ‘baby’ and give them the responsibilities of being gentle with the doll, holding the doll and kissing the doll in a very loving way and not being rough,” she said.
Just remember that toddlers can pick up a lot of germs at daycare, so make sure that they wash their hands before they have any contact with the new baby. If they’re sick with a cold, limit that contact, she said.
It’s very common for children to have mild developmental regression when a new sibling comes along.
“They might suddenly want to go back to using a bottle or a pacifier or if they’re toilet trained they might start having accidents,” she said. “This is normal and nothing to be alarmed about. Give the older sibling attention and when they are acting in an age-appropriate way, give them a lot of positive reinforcement, and it will pass.”