Ages 1 and 2
Many factors can influence how your child responds to a new sibling, from his inborn temperament to his mood at the moment. But your child's age also plays a role, both in how to prepare him for baby and what to expect. Here are some tips for an easy transition.
Children this age are practically still babies themselves and can't comprehend the idea of another infant in the house, says Lynn Sullivan, with BirthPlace, part of Santa Monica/UCLA Medical Center. Children this age can't imagine what a newborn will look like. They often think that the baby is going to pop out and be an instant playmate.
Sullivan advises parents to delay sharing the big news until Mom's showing, and then to keep it simple. Tell your toddler, "A baby is growing inside Mommy and will be coming to live with us soon."
To make the unknown more familiar, you might want to consider these ideas:
- Buy your child a realistic-looking baby doll to care for.
- Show her pictures of infants.
- Visit a friend or relative who has a new baby.
- Read stories about families who have new babies.
Ages 3 and 4
A child's world at this age doesn't revolve completely around parents anymore, lessening her chances of being troubled by the new family member. Because she's also more capable of understanding what a baby is, you can share the big news with her immediately.
Here are some guidelines for preparing your child:
- Expect lots of questions, such as "How did the baby get in your tummy?" and "How will the baby come out?"
- Explain the process realistically but in very simple terms, such as "Mommy and Daddy made a baby together, and the baby is growing inside Mommy."
- Buy a life-size baby doll for your child to play with before the real thing arrives.
Getting Her Involved
Helping your child feel involved in the process can also make things easier. Here are a few things to try:
- Let her help set up the baby's crib, decide where the furniture will go, and display her artwork around the nursery.
- If your older child will be sharing the room, it's important she has her own space. If your child will be moving into her own room, make the switch at least a month before the baby arrives so she won't feel displaced.
- Look at a calendar together and let your child guess which day the baby might be born.
- Let your child participate in the discussion about names for the baby.
And for extra peace of mind, Sullivan recommends making child-care arrangements well in advance so your little one knows who will be sitting for her while you're away.