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Preparing Older Siblings

By Morrisa Drobnick, LCSW

The amount of preparation for a new baby in the family and the time it is begun, should depend upon whether your child is the type who likes to look forward to things, or gets too impatient if told about things too soon. Do, however, start as soon as the child is able to recognize the pregnancy.

The following suggestions are offered to help in the preparation of your child(ren) for this important event.

  1. Remember to present the new baby from child’s point of view. The experience is really not going to be quite as wonderful as we tend to ake it sound. (in the sibling class, we discuss the fact that though babies are cute and nice to have around, they can also be a lot of trouble. They cry a lot, mess their diapers, wet and smell bad. They demand a great dead of Mother’s attention because they must be fed, bathed, diapered, etc… If, when all this is going on, the child feels left out or jealous, we encourage him to go to Mom and Dad and talk about it.) Remember – your affection and attention have belonged to this child exclusively – and this is not easy to share!

  2. Even reasonably secure children are going to feel displaced by the new baby. If the move to a new room, bed, etc. is necessary, or if the child is to begin nursery school, try to accomplish this as early as possible in the pregnancy, so the child will have less reason to feel “shoved out” when the new baby arrives.

  3. Let the child share by participating in discussions of how the baby will be cared for, what things he will need, where he will sleep, etc. Let him help get things ready for the new baby, and remember to include purchases for the child on shopping expeditions.

  4. Show the child picture books about new babies and, if possible, visit in a home where there is an infant, so that he realizes this is not going to be an instant playmate.

  5. Talk to the child about the advantages of either sex and the unpredictability of this so he won’t have his heart set definitely on one or the other.

  6. Take the child along on at least one visit to the doctor’s office for a prenatal visit – he will especially like hearing the baby’s heartbeat.

  7. The child should be told about the possibility of Mom going to the hospital while he is at the nursery school, in the middle of the night, etc… and that this is part of the unpredictability of a baby’s birth. He needs to know who will be caring for him at that time as well as during the remainder of the hospital stay.

  8. Pascack Valley Hospital encourages children to visit Mom and the new baby while they are still in the hospital. The child should be brought for these visits whenever possible. Phoning frequently will also be a tremendous help.

  9. It’s a good idea to have a present (a new doll is ideal), to give to your preschooler when you bring the new baby home from the hospital.

  10. It’s easy to get lost in the excitement of your friends over the new baby when they come to call. Whenever possible, encourage them to include the older child in the excitement as well. Let the child show the baby off to the company if he likes to.

  11. Allow even the youngest child to hold the baby. This can be done sitting on the floor with carpet or a blanket, in the middle of the bed, or in a large stuffed chair. Also, allow him to “help” to whatever extent he can – fetching diapers, bottle, etc…

  12. Father can help a great deal by spending time with the older child first when he gets home from work.

  13. Mothers, too, should remember to spend precious “alone” time with each child as often as possible.

  14. Remember that jealousy is a very common, normal phenomenon! Most children naturally want to be the best, come first, and be loved most by their parents. This may be expressed indirectly by too much concern and affection for the baby, refusal to go to school, extra demands for Mom’s attention, naughty behavior, not eating, not sleeping, loss of toilet training, etc. Or, it may be expressed quite openly by a preschooler’s physical attacks on the baby. For this reason, it is best never to leave them alone together!

  15. Your school-age child will probably adjust much more easily to a new baby since his world has already expenaded to include attachments and activities outside the family. However, be careful not to impose on his increased maturity by turning him into a constant babysitter or by giving him responsibilities concerning the baby that are beyond his capabilities.