Family Matters: Prepare your child for a new baby
Preparing your child for the birth of a sibling is crucial in so many ways.
I recently suggested to an expecting mom that she not talk about the new baby until about six weeks before her due date, as young children do not have a good understanding of extended time. Connect the birth to a season, an event, birthday or holiday, such as near Thanksgiving.
I also suggested that Mom prepare her child with concrete experiences that would soon become real, including bathing and changing diapers. She took her son shopping and allowed him to choose his new baby doll, with diapers, a stroller and a bottle.
Each day, they spent some "baby time," talking quietly while giving his doll a bath in the baby bathtub, which was once his. He learned to get powder or diaper cream and change his baby doll. They went for walks around the block, and he pushed his baby in his stroller. The goal was to simulate as many experiences as possible that will actually occur once the baby arrives. This will help children become comfortable with new routines and activities. Truly, no child is ever prepared for a new sibling, but these daily activities did provide Mom and her son time together, while developing nurturing qualities.
At about six weeks before her due date, I suggested to the expecting mother that she begin reading books each day with the new baby theme, such as "What Baby Needs," and "Baby On The Way," both by Dr. W. Sears, M. Sears, R.N. and Christie W. Kelly; "There's Going to Be a Baby" by John Burningham; "The New Baby" by Mercer Mayer; "Waiting for Baby" by Harriett Zeifert; and "Babies Don't Eat Pizza" by Dianne Danzig. Going through old baby pictures can help a young child envision what a newborn looks like while seeing how important he is at the same time.
Many hospitals offer sibling classes, where sibs are invited to handle lifelike dolls and learn all about what is to come. The more exposure your child has, the easier it will be for him to transition from being an only child to an older sibling. Many children don't really want to be an older sibling, they just want to keep things the way they are. Some regress with baby talk or wetting their pants in an effort to return to their babyhood, where they got all the attention and had all their needs cared for. A wise pediatrician once said that children often feel they are being replaced. It is important to provide an abundance of love and attention, and never punish your child for regression.
Before your baby is due, put together a busy bag, or a "success bag," just as I did for my son. Fill the bag with manipulative toys that can be used with independence and books that can be read together while you are feeding your new baby. Only allow the bag to be used when you are feeding your baby, ensuring that items remain new and exciting. Encourage your child to feed and change his baby while you are doing the same. The more relaxed you are, the easier it will be for your child to accept his new baby brother or sister.
The mom in this column delivered a beautiful baby girl who spent some stressful time in the NICU. Her son's needs were recognized and met with paramount importance, and he is learning each day to be helpful, soft and gentle with his new baby sister.
Diana Boggia, M.Ed., is a local parenting educator. Find additional parenting resources at her website, yourperfectchild.com.