by: Cindy Jett, LICSW
It is well known that the introduction of a new baby into a family is life altering. This is particularly true for older children. Suddenly, they have to share Mommy and Daddy with someone else: someone more needy and more demanding than they are. The family is in flux and the anxious child has to figure out how to fit in. Below are a few ways parents can help children adapt to a new baby in the family.
1. Talk with your child about the pregnancy before you “go public”. Get books and videos about babies and share them with your older child. Answer your child’s questions.
2. After reviewing literature and videos about babies, give your child a realistic picture of how the new baby will impact your family. The baby will cry at night, the baby will need to be burped, fed, and his diaper changed often. Mommy and Daddy may be exhausted at first. Let your child know that things will change over time and that within a few months the baby will begin to sleep through the night, start to smile and interact with others, and eat and nap on a more regular schedule.
3. If possible, take your child to visit babies of relatives and friends, so that he might have an idea of what to expect. Point out how babies of different ages do different things.
4. Make sure that any changes that are going to impact your older child take place well before the arrival of the baby. For example, if your child needs to move to another room, do it sooner rather than later, so she doesn’t feel displaced by the baby. Frame it in a positive way- you are a big girl now and ready for a big girl room.
5. One key to a successful transition is to have your older child participate in the preparations. Have her help to organize the nursery. When you shop for the baby, bring your older child along. Ask her to help choose new things for the baby? Which rattle does she like best? Which clothes does she think the baby will like? Explain what all the items are for that you are purchasing.
6. Have your child make something for the new baby. Maybe he can draw a picture or do a craft to welcome the new baby home. Maybe he can do a painting to decorate the baby’s room.
7. Once the baby arrives, elicit your older child’s help with care taking. Can she give the baby a bottle? Help bathe or dress the baby? Bring you a diaper?
8. As the baby gets a little older, encourage your older child to play with and entertain the baby. Can he make the baby smile? Have him show the baby board books or sing songs to him. Help him to discover the baby as a source of joy. Play with the baby together.
9. Carve out time to spend with your older child alone. Do things that you did together before the baby was born. Your older child will see you spending a lot of time with the baby. Let him know that he is equally important and deserving of attention.
10. Regularly check in with your older child about how he is feeling. Ask him what he likes about having a new baby, and what he doesn’t like. Let him know that his feelings matter.
About The Author
Cindy Jett, LICSW is a psychotherapist and author of Harry the Happy Caterpillar Grows, an acclaimed picture book that helps children adapt to change.