The sudden appearance of a new baby can be rough on the other children in the family. Daily routines are disrupted and suddenly mom and dad are too busy to pay attention to older siblings. Worst of all, the new baby is the instant star of the family - the center of attention. The adorable baby is the big attraction for everyone from mom and dad, to visiting relatives, to casual acquaintances bumped into at the mall, right down to strangers on the street. Everyone is talking baby talk, cooing at the new baby, and making a fuss over the newborn. The older kids may feel shunted aside and resentful. This is especially true for the displaced former baby of the family.
Given these natural reactions, anything that you can do to prepare your other children for the new arrival will ease the transition. Everything you can do to involve your kids in advance and to get them to actually look forward to the birth will make a big difference in how they experience it. It might even help establish a stronger brother or sister bond with the new baby that will contribute to the lasting closeness of a positive sibling relationship.
Here are some simple ideas that expectant parents might try, to smooth the road ahead for their other children. Most are common knowledge or simply common sense, but sometimes too easily forgotten amid all the excitement and activity surrounding the birth of a new baby. A few might be new ideas that are worth a try. A little advance thought and preparation may go a long way towards making the "blessed event" a blessing for the ENTIRE family. Hopefully, you'll be inspired to try some of these ideas, so here goes.
Let your other kids in on the secret as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed, well before it is obvious just by looking at mom. Even with your youngest children, try to give them some understanding of the changes that mom is going through and what they mean. Check out your local public library. It should have books geared to all different ages that can explain, in terms that children can understand, the biological process of having a baby. Picture books about baby animals may also help crystalize the concept and relate it to something your kids have already experienced, like watching newborn kittens, for example.
The library or local bookstore should also be able to guide you to works of fiction, including picture books for preschoolers, that focus on the arrival of a new baby in the family and such issues as jealousy and feelings of neglect. Quiet parent-child story reading times can provide an ideal opportunity to prepare young children for changes that are on the way and to reassure them of their own importance and irreplaceable position in the family. Discuss things openly and answer your kids' questions.
Encourage your children to think about life with the new baby and how family routines will be altered. Coax your kids to develop their own lists of things that will be fun about having a new baby in the house - for example, they can push the baby carriage and help dress the baby. Help them think about all the things that they'll be able to share with and teach the baby as he or she grows up and how important their role will be as a "big brother" or "big sister".
At other times, let them focus on coming up with ways that they can help care for the baby or have them think of things they can do around the house to ease the burden on mom and dad. Also, take this opportunity to make your kids aware that babies require gentle handling and a quiet environment. You might even use a baby doll with your younger children to role play baby's diaper changing and feeding.
Nurture the feeling that every family member is of equal importance and that each occupies a special niche and has special contributions to make. No one is being replaced by the baby and the family cannot be whole unless EVERYONE is a part of it. If your kids internalize this belief, you may be able to avoid some of the trauma and the understandable resentment toward this little stranger who has stolen mommy and daddy's hearts. The better your children are prepared for the impending event, the better they'll be able to cope with it emotionally.
As part of that preparation process, from time to time plan special activities with your kids that relate to babies. For example, they might draw pictures of babies or collect baby photos from magazines and create a collage. Sit down and go through photo albums of your kids' baby pictures and reminisce with them about their own arrivals into the world. Re-tell any family anecdotes surrounding their births. Teach your children lullabies that they can sing to the baby, plus finger games and "peek-a-boo" games to entertain their new brother or sister.
Arts and crafts projects can furnish a special parent-child discussion and sharing time and may sometimes revolve around preparations for the new baby. Kids can make pictures to hang in the baby's room, or create a baby-safe mobile to hang over the baby's crib, or draw scenes in which they imagine their lives with the new baby - rocking the baby in their arms, and so forth.
Let the kids be involved in every facet of the preparations that you yourself are making for the baby's arrival. Your kids can help you repaint the nursery or paint a mural on the nursery wall, and help you pick out baby furniture, bedding and nursery decorations. They can choose baby clothes that appeal to them. All of these things can later give the children pride and a sense of importance and inclusion in the baby's life. When grandma says "What a cute bib the baby's wearing," your preschooler can say "I picked it !"
In addition, make your children key members of the family committee that chooses a name for the new baby. Keep the kids involved and actively participating and then, as the birth becomes imminent, dad and the kids may even conspire to prepare some extra, special, secret surprises for mom and the baby, like buying or creating a special keepsake item or putting together a "welcome home" party.
In short, it's always worth the effort to do as much as you can to get your kids involved in and excited about the arrival of a new baby. Include them in every step of the process. The more they feel that it is THEIR baby, too, the more positive their attitudes will be towards the baby. In this way, you can try to minimize the natural insecurities and feelings of jealousy that go with the territory.
The suggestions mentioned in this article can help lay the groundwork for good sibling relationships but, of course, you can't rest on your laurels once the baby is born. After the baby arrives, try to do everything you can to set aside some special time each day that's just for you and each of your other children. Offer them special little treats or outings or surprises, and encourage grandma and grandpa to do the same. To reduce jealousy, give your kids pride in the things that they CAN do that the baby can't do, like dressing themselves or enjoying a movie or reciting their ABCs. Continue along the path that you started on months earlier - reassure your kids that each of them is just as important as the baby is, so that they won't feel that they must compete for your love and attention.
Good luck and oh, by the way, congratulations !
Visit Barbara Freedman-DeVito's website at http://www.childrensclothingbabyclothes.com for baby clothes, children's clothing and gift items decorated with her colorful and amusing artwork for kids. Barbara is a professional storyteller, teacher and artist.