Preparing your first child for the new arrival can be a daunting task, mainly because you can’t predict how they will actually react once the baby is here. We were lucky with our first because he adores babies and he as he was three when I fell pregnant, he was very switched on to everything that was going on; so much so that he guessed I was pregnant before we even told him! However, this didn’t necessarily mean that it would all be a bed of roses once the baby did come which I always kept in mind.
You worry about jealousy the most I think and to be honest, I think the green-eyed monster will always rear its ugly head regardless of the age gap; a younger child will want the attention and not fully understand why they aren’t getting it now and an older child will be used to being the centre of attention for quite a while. So, what can you do to make the transition a little less stressful and emotional for them?
Talk, Talk, Talk
We discussed the pregnancy from day one of telling him (or of him working it out for himself!) Kids aren’t stupid, they are very switched on, even more so to changes and I wasn’t about to be hiding from him why I was being sick or why I was more tired, he may have become more upset by thinking I was ill.
Once they understand that there is a new baby coming you can talk about how long it will be, the fact that you have to rest more, that you will go to a doctor more and that you will be slowing down and won’t be able to do quite as much as before. This last point is very important because this will continue once the new baby arrives… ok as will the tiredness! It is all good preparation for them to adapt to what will be an even bigger change in a few months.
Take Them To Appointments
Unfortunately, most hospitals now do not allow siblings into the scans but there are other appointments they can attend which could help them to prepare. Letting them meet your midwife, see what is going on, listen to the heart beat and answering their questions will make everything seem all a little more real and exciting to them.
Get Them Involved
I always included Jake in making decisions… or let him think he was making them… and in helping out with jobs to prepare the home for the baby. He came with me to pick out tester pots of paint, he applied them to the walls (a little too liberally!) and he helped my Dad decorate and prepare the nursery. Making him feel as though he was contributing to the new arrival and making his role as big brother an important one helped with making him feel included.
Once the baby is here it is vital that you keep the first child’s routine. The new baby will require a lot of attention and your older child will quickly pick up on this. By keeping their normal activities going, sticking to bath, book and bed routines and showing that their world hasn’t completely changed will help with keeping them settled.
A lovely way to mark the arrival of the new baby is for the first child to buy a present for him/her which can be given after the birth. Some parents also find that giving a present back ‘from the baby’ helps with the acceptance of the change.
Make Them Your Helper
Involve your first child in the care of the baby. Let them feel special by being your little helper and giving them certain tasks such as fetching the nappy during changing time. Giving them responsibility makes them feel important and means they are receiving attention at the same time as the baby is.
Explain How Babies Are Different
It is a good idea to explain to your first child how babies are different to them. They can’t remember what happened yesterday let alone what it was like to be a baby so they need to be aware that a baby has bigger needs and you will have to tend to them more often. Explain that the baby cries because they cannot talk to let you know what is wrong, explain how they will drink only milk and won’t have food so will feed more often, make them aware of how a baby needs to be held and how delicate they are, talk to them about how they won’t be able to play straight away… There are probably many more and these will come to light once your child starts to question things. Their understanding will help them to deal with the new noises, extra mess, wakings in the night etc.
Provide Activities During Feeding Times
Feeding times can be tricky when you have another child to think about. Babies feed often and this increases during growth spurts. This is the time that an older child can feel left out so by thinking about their needs during the feeds is another way to ensure they feel included. A nursing box is a great way to entertain your child and you can see what we have included in ours in this post here.
Start a New Class
If it is feasible, starting a new class with the older child is a lovely way of interacting with them. Jake already does gymnastics in the week and I take him but we decided that a Saturday football class with his Dad would be beneficial for when the baby arrived. It means he gets one on one time with the other parent and I stay at home to focus on the new addition.
Keep An Eye Out For Changed Behaviour
The best way to deal with jealousy or upset is by nipping it in the bud as soon as it appears. Keeping a close eye on how your first born is behaving will give you an idea of how they are coping. Emotions can be mixed. They can be happy about being a big brother or sister one hour and then be throwing a tantrum the next. Sulking, excessive crying, pushing the boundaries and lashing out are all signs that something is wrong. When this occurs, I find the best solution is to go back to our first pointer– talking. They may not be able to understand their own behaviour and feelings but by talking to them you will be showing that they are still being noticed and they are still very much your baby too.
Make A Few Exceptions
A new baby in the home means new routines and adjustments for all the family, not just the sibling so making a few exceptions here and there won’t upset the apple cart too much. If your first child wakes in the night and needs to be in with you it may be for the best for a few nights, grab a couple of takeaways if cooking dinner all seems too much and ignore the housework a little more in those early weeks and go out as a family instead!
Enjoy being a family and show your first child that life is just as much fun, if not more, with a baby brother or sister.