By Zipporah Neuman, LGSW
So, your family is growing – there is a new baby on the way! Mazel tov! Of course, this is a joyful and exciting time, but it can also be mixed with (understandably) a little anxiety wondering what life will be like with this change and how everyone will adapt. If this isn’t your first baby, some of that anxiety might be related to concerns about preparing your other child (or children) for the arrival of a new baby brother or sister.
According to the 2010 US Census, approximately 45% of American families have more than one child; therefore, this is a common challenge that many families face at some point in their lives. Even so, many children struggle with this adjustment and sometimes it can be complicated. Even if a child is excited about the idea of a new baby in the family, those feelings can change once the baby is brought home and becomes a permanent reality!
Will your son or daughter show excitement or resentment? Does the addition of a new baby change their place or their role in the family? Will this addition make one of your children the middle child? Reactions often depend upon things like your child’s personality, level of sensitivity, and how easily he or she adjusts to new situations. Age plays a part, too. Children who have siblings at a very young age tend to adjust more easily because they have fewer memories of a time in their lives prior to their sib’s birth. While there is no way to guarantee how your child will react to this family change, here are some ways in which you can help ease the transition of having a new sibling:
1. Have heart-to-heart chats. Prior to the baby’s birth, talk with your child about what life will be like once the baby comes. Instill realistic expectations. Explain that babies spend most of their time sleeping and eating. Make sure, too, that they know babies don’t know how to talk so they can’t tell us if they are hungry or tired or need a diaper changed. If they need something, they cry…sometimes a lot! Also mention that new babies aren’t ready to be playmates – they are delicate, small and don’t move very much. Show your child pictures and videos from when they were a baby to help them understand they were the same way when they were first born. If your child is interested in art, ask him to draw a picture of your family with the baby. Discuss all the positive features of having siblings, like once the baby gets older, he or she will be a built-in friend and a play mate. Reassure your son or daughter that you’ll always be there for them and they can ask you anything.
2. Read Books. Read books to your children about having a new baby and becoming a big brother or sister. This can be done throughout the pregnancy as well as after the baby comes home from the hospital.
3. Little Helper. Give them jobs to do to help you care for the new baby; you may be surprised how much children can truly be helpful. Ask your child to get you a diaper or have her help you bathe the baby or sing the baby to sleep. Make sure to show your appreciation for having such a big helper! Include your child in the tasks you need to do to care for the baby, ask your child to sit with you while you feed the baby or join you while you put the baby to sleep. Allow your child to hold the baby (as long as they are sitting down next to you in a safe way and propped up with pillows). The baby should be shared between you and your child. Allow your child to buy a gift for the baby. Ask them their advice surrounding small purchases for the baby such as which bottle or pacifier to buy when your child is shopping with you.
4. Add to Your Child’s Life, Do Not Take Away. The goal of a new baby is to add to your child’s life. Have a gift ready for your child when you first come home from the hospital, express that the gift is from the new baby. If any changes need to be made that will impact your child such as the room that they sleep in or where they sit in the car, be sure to do so several months before the baby is born. A child does not want to feel as though something that belongs to them such as their crib is taken away in order to be given to the new baby.
5. Special Time with Mommy and Daddy. Make sure to carve out special alone time with your child. New parents are often so tired and distracted that they find it challenging to set aside alone time with their older children. Alone time does not need to be a big event or an expensive activity. Try to spend about a half an hour outside of the house, once a week with your child alone. Take them to the park or out of ice cream. This will make your child feel special and remind them that you are still –and always will be – his mommy or daddy, too.
As an expectant mother, I know first-hand that adjusting to a new baby can feel daunting for both the parents and the other children in the home. But, by simply speaking with your child about the changes, including her in this exciting process and reassuring her of your love, the transition will be easier for everyone.
By Zipporah Neuman, LGSW, JCS Therapy Services
Because parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual, JCS offers a variety of programs, services, education and support for parents and families with children of all ages. Click here or call 410-466-9200 to learn more.