How to Help Your Firstborn Adapt to Baby

Adapting Once Baby's Home

  • Screen the sibling stuff. Before sharing those "becoming a big sister or brother" books and DVDs with your child, take a look at them. "A lot of the information that's meant to prepare kids for a new baby focuses on the conflict or dissatisfaction that comes with having a sibling," says Kramer. In her research, a lot of mothers said that their children felt positive about having a sibling and that they were worried these conflict-ridden books and shows were introducing their kids to issues they weren't even thinking about. "They can give kids the idea that not getting along is a possibility," says Kramer. Look for materials that depict the big brother or sister as caring and warm (one of our favorites is I'm a Big Sister or I'm a Big Brother by Joanna Coles). Save those that highlight negative emotions (like Za-Za's Baby Brother by Lucy Cousins) until after your child has experienced these feelings, so she's reassured they're normal.
  • Don't keep the baby a mystery. Even kids as young as 18 months to 2 years can feel that things are changing, so not mentioning your new addition until he arrives is a bad idea. "Talking about the baby ahead of time helps to prepare your child," says Dr. Brazelton. "Your discussion is not so much an announcement as an acceptance of the baby as a future step for the whole family." Accentuate the positives by telling your older child that she'll have someone new to love. Explain that this baby will be her little sister or brother, so she'll see having a sibling as a privilege or gift. Then again, don't overdo it. "Too much discussion of the wonder of it all will set her up for even more rivalry with the 'thing' in Mommy's tummy," says Dr. Brazelton.
  • Depict the baby as a real person with his own needs and interests. For example, explain how babies need milk and diapers and that they sleep a lot. "Research shows that parents who talk openly to their children before the new baby and who explain that he or she is a real person tend to have kids who get along better down the road," says Kramer. "We talked about the baby a lot with my 5-year-old daughter. We let her pick things for his room and had her draw pictures for him," says Alyssa Sadoff, a mother of two from New York City. "By talking about the baby, without taking the focus off her, there was no jealousy, just excitement and enthusiasm when her brother finally arrived."
  • Encourage friendships. Studies show that children who have at least one close friend before their sibling is born have better relationships with their new brother or sister. Kramer followed kids from when they were toddlers until they graduated from high school and found that this impact was long term.
  • Don't blame your belly. While you're pregnant, your growing midsection may be the reason you can't get down on the floor for a tea party with your toddler. But don't tell her that. She may think it's the baby's fault, and resentment may build before your little one is even born.

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