We Are Both Right

Our Two Cents: How To Prepare Your “Baby” Not to Be the Baby Anymore

So you got the "I'm a Big Sister" t-shirt. Now what? © Armin Hanisch / stock.xchngDear Amanda and Suzanne:

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

My husband and I just found out we’re expecting our second child. We’re really excited and know our daughter will be thrilled with the news when we tell her in a few weeks. Julia’s three and has been asking for a baby brother or sister constantly.

I’m just worried about how she’ll react when the baby comes home with us — considering that she’s been the center of everyone’s attention since she was born!

How did that go for you? Was there anything specific that helped you prepare your younger ones, both before and after baby arrived?

– Another on the Way

Suzanne:
Well congratulations! That is exciting news.

A little different than the first time around though, right? Your biggest worry in getting ready for baby then probably was finding the right shade of yellow for the nursery. At the most, maybe you had a pet who needed to get oriented to a baby’s cry. And now you have this sweet little one, who you can’t imagine not being the apple of your eye. The last person you think about when you finally get to sleep and the first one on your mind (and/or breathing on your face) when you wake up. You want to make sure that she’s as thrilled to welcome home the new baby as the rest of the family.

Chances are she will be. Eventually.

However you choose to prepare her for a new sibling — whether through books, talking about the baby, bringing her to a sonogram appointment, letting her feel your belly, involving her in choosing things for the baby’s room or a combination of these — keep in mind that even when she reaches the point of elation at the thought of welcoming a new baby home, she won’t really know what comes next until it really happens. And then you might be dealing with a roller coaster of emotions that could rival what you experienced during pregnancy and postpartum combined.

So basically — have no expectations. And if she turns out to be the most well-adjusted big sister ever, you can breathe a long sigh of relief. If not, you will know that she’s experiencing an absolutely normal reaction to a major change in her life. (I was going to write “her world being turned upside down” but that sounded too dramatic. Even though it could very well be how she feels.)

I thought I had it made in the shade when I found out I was pregnant the second time, only because my son was going to be five when the baby was born and wouldn’t have the same trouble adjusting as a toddler who might not be able to communicate his feelings. How wrong I was.

As much as L. participated in our planning for the arrival of his little sister, by announcing the pregnancy to our family, helping to pick her name, painting her nursery, being there for the gender reveal, and spending lots of time with her in the hospital in the days after she was born, we had no idea that he would take as many steps back in the following weeks. He hated me and my husband, or at least that’s what he told us. Hearing that was probably the hardest thing for me to digest — still to this day and he’s 8 going on 18. It came out of nowhere despite my husband’s best efforts to do special things with him every day of his leave and my reassurances that we loved him more than ever. Our pediatrician was the only one who wasn’t surprised by his reaction. The thing was, he told everyone that he loved his sister. I still don’t know what it was that made him feel divided in this way, but within a month he got over it.

In no way am I trying to scare you about the possible reactions your daughter might have around the time of your new baby’s arrival. But I hope that by knowing how wide the range of “normal” is for new siblings, you will be able to give her the time and space she might need to get used to her new role in your family.

Best wishes to all! We’d love to hear how it turns out.

Amanda:

Yay! I hope you are feeling well.

Like Suzanne said, I think the key here is to not have too many expectations. Because the thing with preschoolers is that they are funny little creatures. Not to make light of the situation, but I expect that your daughter’s reaction to the news of her new sibling will vary over the next few months depending on a lot of things — her mood, if the moon is full, if she liked the episode of Yo Gabba Gabba! on television that morning, etc.

Still, no matter how your daughter reacts to becoming a big sister — with joy, with anger or with seemingly no response at all — it’s normal and I think it’s important for you to remember that whatever she says or does, this is a big part of her emotional development.

I do think your best bet is to address the changes in your family before the new baby arrives. And this can be a lot of fun. While you may not be brave enough to solicit name ideas from Julia (while pregnant with my third I was regaled with a selection of names culled from Playhouse Disney and Nick Jr. and my kids were six and eight years old!) you should ask for her opinion on other important details like bedding, toys and even clothing. If you decide to register, bring her with you (try to keep the trip short, you can always go back later and add items if you need to) and actively ask for input. If possible, let her pick out one or two items that you purchase on the spot.

Getting her involved in the process will make her realize that she is an important, contributing member of the family and that the life of the new sibling is something she should be part of.

Another thing, I’ve found that most kids under 5 have trouble understanding time so it’s best to say the baby will arrive when the weather gets cold or around Halloween to give her some sort of frame of reference. This way you’ll avoid an endless string of “Is the baby coming today?” questions.

One baby arrives and as your family adjusts to its new dynamic, remember that your “big kid” may not be thrilled in her new role yet. Don’t be surprised if she regresses a little — asking to drink from a bottle or nurse, have bathroom related accidents, engage in “baby talk” or even ask to sleep in the crib (especially if the crib was once hers). Ask her to help you in caring for the little one – get you diapers, push the stroller or even assist in getting it dressed. It may take longer with the extra set of hands, but if she wants to be involved, welcome her efforts. (And if you are nursing, know that this sometimes makes older kids feel left out. Keep some books on hand or have a favorite movie cued up on the DVD player so you can have some cuddle time while you feed the baby.)

Some kids may welcome the new sibling with open arms and never express any discontent. Others may say hurtful things. Most fall someplace in the middle. It’s important to be patient as your little one adjusts. Encourage her to talk about how she’s feeling through words or even a picture. Try to relate — if they baby won’t stop crying, tell her that it can be frustrating for you to hear too.

Priority number one is to make sure your child feels loved and needed. Adding a new member to the family will affect Julia in a big way, but ultimately a positive one. She is getting a new sibling, but hopefully also gaining a lifelong friend.

How did you help prepare your child for a new sibling? What worked? What didn’t?

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