A Firstborn of 2 or 3
Older toddlers and preschoolers have had more experience with babies. They've seen them at the park or have met their friends' little siblings. What will they think about having one of their own? "They'll definitely have an opinion, and they'll definitely share it with you," Clauss-Ehlers says.
Expect your child's feelings to change as she digests the news. For many, anxiety grows as the birth draws near. "It's harder to sit on Mommy's lap, she can't be picked up as easily -- these things can feel disruptive to the child," Korfmacher says. Adds Clauss-Ehlers: "One minute your child might feel upset, then happy -- it's probably going to vacillate."
To that end, choose a variety of sibling books with different tones. For instance, Joanna Cole's I'm a Big Sister and I'm a Big Brother (both HarperCollins) focus on how great it is to be a big sibling, while The New Baby (Random House), a Little Critter book by Mercer Mayer, acknowledges the feelings of ambivalence. You want your child to be excited yet not ashamed of any other feelings he's having, Korfmacher says.
Ages 2 to 3 are when milestones such as toilet training and the big-kid bed occur; make sure your child doesn't feel like he's being made to use the potty or give up his crib when he's not ready. "Don't force those issues or connect them in the child's mind with the baby," Clauss-Ehlers says. Either work on transitions at least three months before you're due or wait until some time afterward. Your newborn can sleep in a bassinet or co-sleeper if you still need the crib for your big kid, and having two in diapers is not as terrible as it sounds.
When the baby arrives, how your child behaves will depend on his personality. Some kids seem uninterested. Others are curious. Play helps them express emotions: some will cradle their dolls, while others will drop them on their head. (That doesn't mean they'll do the same to a real baby. They're just telling you they're not sure they like the idea of a sibling yet!)
Expect some regression from your big kid. He may want to be held more or demand to nurse even though he has long been weaned. He may have accidents even if he's potty trained. Treat regression calmly, without punishment, and praise your child for grown-up behavior. And, of course, sneak in as many extra cuddles as you can to assure him he's still your beloved baby too.
Though your child is anxious about the change in his family, he's excited as well. "Most kids this age take a lot of pride in their new role. Anything you can do to reinforce that will help," says Korfmacher. Hildy Karp, of South Orange, New Jersey, threw a big-brother party for her 3-year-old son, Holden, the day his baby sister came home. "My sisters and Holden decorated our house and got cupcakes, and we all celebrated his new status as a big brother," she says. "A year later, he still talks about it."