Bringing home a new baby is a time for celebration, but your toddler may not be quite open to all of the festivities — in fact, to him, all the fuss may feel more like chaos! But there are plenty of things you can do throughout your pregnancy to prepare your tot for the big arrival and get him excited about the joys and important responsibilities that come with being an older sibling.
Melissa Tepe, a licensed counselor and instructor at the Cincinnati Family Enrichment Center, teaches a class on Sibling Success, helping parents prepare for this very situation. Her first suggestion is to let your child make friends with the new baby before birth — talk to your child about the baby, let him talk to the baby in your belly, and let him feel the baby kick and move when you can. Listening to your child can be just as helpful — give him a chance to express his excitement, as well as his fears. It’s important to be honest about how the new baby will change everyone’s lives, but reassure your child that you will always have enough love for both of them. Children are usually most bothered at having to share their mommies once the baby arrives, Tepe says, so it helps them to know when their special time with you will take place, and what you will do.
Sarah Ellis, who recently gave birth to her third child, played home videos for her twins so they could hear a baby crying and get used to the idea of having a new baby around.
Getting children warmed up for another baby is sometimes a non-issue, but if you think it will be one, there are things you can do to help your child adjust smoothly. Involve your child in the baby prep. Talk about where Baby will sleep and where his clothes will be kept. Talk about how babies can sometimes cry at inconvenient times. Having those kind of things covered in advance can give your child a sense of ownership: he can take charge by showing friends and family where things go or demonstrate how to give the baby a kiss on the forehead.
Seek out a Sibling Class
If you bring your child with you to your prenatal doctor visits, he’ll one day get the chance to hear your baby’s heartbeat during your sonogram. Nurses in obstetric offices are accustomed to siblings tagging along and will keep them occupied outside your examination room when it’s appropriate for them NOT to be there. Aside from letting your child come with you to appointments, look into the sibling classes available where you plan on delivering — you can probably set up a tour of the maternity unit and nursery for your child.
Welcome His Input
While you may not want to hand over the responsibility of naming the new baby to your 3-year-old, but you can share the names you’re considering, or see how many names your tot can come up with that begin with the letter D. Or perhaps you’re decorating a nursery — why not let your little one help pick out some pictures to hang on the wall, or better yet, make a few pictures of his own?
Preschoolers love to help with tasks around the house, so now’s your chance to teach him about some of the new jobs he’ll be responsible for once the baby arrives. Teach him where the diapers will be stored so he can bring a clean one to you when you need it, or help him learn some new songs to help sing the baby to sleep. Kids can also do things like help fold blankets and sort out their toys from the baby’s toys and put them away in the proper drawers and boxes. Shopping for a rocking chair? Take along your child to test ride a few — after all, when the baby is sleeping or in the hands of Grandma or Grandpa, that same chair will be the perfect spot for the two of you to share some time together.
Tepe suggests letting kids be the “teacher” at what she calls “Baby School.” Let them show the baby how to do things like clap, make noises and funny faces, hold things, crawl and sing.
Spend Time Apart
If grandparents or other family live in the area, arrange for some sleepovers for your child during your pregnancy so he knows what it’s like to be away from you for the night.
A Gift from the Baby
Plenty of parents think to give the siblings a little item when the baby is born since the baby’s getting all kinds of things. But how about you have the baby give something to the sibling?
“We gave each twin something small after they had come in to see their sister,” says Ellis, “and they loved getting presents, of course, but it was really cute. They both told her thank you before they left.”
Siblings will bicker, that’s what they do, and it’s sure to drive you nuts in the coming years. But by beginning with a foundation of joy and love, those coming years will be part of a shared history that each of your children will cherish as they grow up together.