How to Help Your Firstborn Adapt to Baby

Adapting Once Baby's Home Continued

  • Give your older child someone to love. When you come home from the hospital with your bundle of joy, give your older child a new doll or animal to care for. "This way he can nurture it while you nurture the baby, which gives him something to do while you're busy, and it can help him identify with you a little bit more," says Dr. Brazelton. This strategy worked for Sara Mason Ader, a mother of two from Hingham, Massachusetts. "The one thing that got my 2-year-old daughter to sit still (and stop climbing on me) when I was nursing my son was that she sat next to me, pulled up her shirt, and 'nursed' her doll too."
  • Boost his ego. Make your child feel proud and connected to the new baby by saying things like, "She only smiles like that when you're around" or "She likes when you hold her bottle." You can also make your older child feel good by having him show the little one how he does things, such as put on his socks or brush his teeth.
  • Create a little helper. While you're pregnant, let your older child choose a few things for the baby (such as books or toys). When he is born, let her help you feed, bathe, and dress him (with age-appropriate boundaries, of course). For example, a preschooler can fetch you a diaper or pick which bodysuit her little brother will wear that day. Assisting you will make her feel included and important. However, if she does not want to help, don't force it, or it can be counterproductive.
  • Don't downplay the baby. "Some conventional advice suggests de-emphasizing the importance of the new baby compared to your older child," says Kramer. "But that could start a life of competition between the siblings or make the older one feel entitled to special treatment." Instead, explain that new babies require a lot of attention and that she received the same treatment when she was a baby, but she doesn't need that help anymore. "Your child is more likely to understand if you link your behavior to the baby's needs," says Kramer. My daughter responded well when I explained that babies are so tiny and new that they don't know how to do anything like feed or dress themselves -- things that "big" girls like her were so good at. When I emphasized this, not only was she more accepting of her little brother, but she was so proud of being older that she tried to be even more independent.

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