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How to prepare a child for the birth of a new sibling

September 11, 2018 at 9:00 AM

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Finding out I was pregnant with my second baby would have been as exciting as with the first but for one thing overshadowing the joy: How would I tell my daughter that she wasn’t going to be the only child in our life from now on?

The guilt I felt about sharing my love for her ate away at me throughout my pregnancy until finally, when daughter No. 2 came along, I realized that actually it was fine and there is always enough love to go round. But I don’t think I am alone in worrying how a first child is going to feel about getting a baby brother or sister. I teach childbirth classes, and my students who are expecting a second child often ask how they can soften the blow.

“Different families will take different approaches, and that’s fine,” says Rebecca Schiller, author of “Your No Guilt Pregnancy Plan,” doula and chief executive of childbirth charity Birthrights. “You know your child best. However you prepare them, the reality is bound to be difficult at times as they learn to share your time, love, lap, toys and bedrooms — but it’s okay if your child finds it hard to adjust, and you haven’t failed them if they do.”

Related: [You’d leave detailed instructions for a babysitter. Should you do the same for grandparents?]

Schiller says you should talk to your child about becoming a sibling in an “age-appropriate way” and be honest about the difficult aspects of their new role. She suggests getting them to help you make a scrapbook about their birth and baby years, and asking them to be part of your planning for the months ahead. Here are some suggestions from other parents about what helped prepare their child for a new baby.

Books and TV shows

Some parents found it helpful to share books about becoming a sibling with their older kids in the weeks leading up to the birth. Some books focus on the physical aspects of the baby growing in their mother’s body and how it comes out (“It’s Not the Stork!“), while others deal with what life is likely to be like once the baby arrives. We read “Sophie and the New Baby” with our eldest daughter when I was pregnant with her sister. Other options include “There’s a House Inside my Mummy” and “The New Small Person.”

Other parents I spoke with said it was helpful that some of their child’s favorite television shows have episodes that focus on introducing new baby siblings, including “Blue’s Clues,” “Sesame Street” and “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” Watching one of these shows together could present an opportunity to start a conversation about the impending arrival.

Buy them a doll

Consider giving your soon-to-be-sibling a lifelike doll. If nothing else, it will give them a “baby” of their own to hold instead of trying to pick up their sibling. We didn’t give my older daughter a specific new doll, but she did mimic me with one of her existing ones and was soon feeding her, potty-training her and pushing her around in a toy buggy.

Make them your official photographer

Depending on how old the child is, they may enjoy having a camera and being given the task of documenting the arrival of the baby. There are plenty of child-friendly cameras on the market that are sturdy enough not to break if dropped, or you could just let them use the camera on your phone. It will be fun to browse through the results during a late-night feeding session with the new baby.

Come bearing gifts

Many parents suggest getting a present for the baby to give the older child. We had a toy ready at the hospital when my daughter arrived to meet her younger sister. Also remember that your child might feel left out when friends and relatives come to visit bearing gifts for the new baby — but nothing for the newly minted older sibling. Ask people to bring a small gift for your older child as well or instead. The baby doesn’t really care if they get anything, but your already put out older child may resent a pile of presents for their sibling.

Be aware of confused feelings

It is natural for your firstborn to feel jealous of their new sibling. Be prepared for this, and plan ahead to help them cope and still feel special. When they first come to see you, make sure you are not holding the baby. You need to have your arms free to give them a big hug, and the sight of you carrying their new sibling might make them feel like they are being replaced in your affections as well as in your arms.

Make transitions ahead of time (or well after)

Even if you don’t plan to put your new baby straight into the crib, consider moving your older child into a bed (if they are ready) a few weeks before the baby comes home. That will help prevent the child from associating the move with the new baby’s arrival, and feeling like they are being pushed out. If you are thinking about toilet training around this time, either start a good while before your due date or leave it until later. You don’t want to be trying to cajole them into sitting on a potty while you are also looking after a newborn (I speak from bitter experience). Changing two sets of diapers actually isn’t as bad as running across a room clutching a nursing baby to your chest hoping to grab the potty before it’s too late.

Classes for children

If you are really worried about the impact of the impending arrival on your older child, look for a special sibling preparation class that you can take them to, such as this one in Chicago. And for anyone considering a home birth and wanting to prepare their children for witnessing the birth, there are special sibling classes, such as the ones offered by Donna Ryan of Birth Boot Camp. Ryan’s course includes helping the children prepare for the arrival of their sibling but also to be ready for what happens during labor.

And remember, no matter how much you prepare your child, they really aren’t going to understand what is coming until the baby arrives. Hopefully, your older child will welcome the baby into the family and love it just like you do. But don’t worry if they don’t — sibling rivalry is natural and one of the ways children learn to navigate relationships later in life.

Clara Wiggins is a British writer and the author of a book called “The Expat Partner’s Survival Guide.” Find her on Twitter @strandedatsea.

Follow On Parenting on Facebook for more essays, news and updates. You can sign up here for our weekly newsletter. We are on Twitter @OnParenting. Join our discussion group here to talk about balancing parenting and a career.

More reading:

Why I can’t stop posting my kid’s photos and sharing him with the world

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