How can I prepare my first child for a new sibling?

Q: I am pregnant my second child, but my toddler doesn't seem to understand that another baby is on the way. How can I make the transition easier for her?

A: It's hard for kids under 2 to grasp the idea that there's a baby growing in Mommy's belly, at least until you're really showing or you actually bring your newborn home from the hospital. But there are plenty of ways to get a kid this age psyched about being an older sibling, which will also help her adjust after the baby's born:

  • Have your toddler help you set up the nursery. She'll probably love being Mommy's little helper, and seeing all the new baby stuff around can help instill a sense of nurturing toward the baby on the way.
  • Avoid making other major changes to your toddler's routine. For example, don't start potty training or moving her out of the crib -- it's too much all at once.
  • Set up some bonding time with whoever will be caring for her -- Grandma, a neighbor, her favorite babysitter -- while you're in the hospital.
  • Make sure she has plenty of time to bond with Daddy as well, since he'll likely be much more available to her in the initial weeks after the new baby comes home.
  • Bring your toddler to places where she can be around young babies and get used to the fact that they cry, eat, and sleep a lot. Visit friends who have infants, for example, or point out small babies in the park or at the mall. Explain that the baby will take time to grow and won't be born an instant playmate.
  • Read books about becoming a big sister.
  • If your child expresses concern over Mommy's health or safety or asks questions like, "Will it hurt when the baby comes out?" reassure her that having a baby is one of the most natural things a woman does. (Although some children attend home births these days, most experts agree that a very young child should not see her mother in active labor.)
  • Buy her a big-sister gift from the new baby and give it to her when he or she arrives home. On the same note, help her draw a picture as a present for the new baby and hang it up in the nursery.
  • When the new baby comes home, give your toddler a realistic-looking doll to play with and care for so she can be just like Mommy.
  • When friends and family come to see the new baby, remind them before they arrive to greet and congratulate your toddler first and be equally excited to visit with her.

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