A new baby is an exciting time for your family. However, you may be concerned about how your young child will handle the new arrival. Preschoolers are very adaptable, and you have several months in which you can prepare your child for the new baby. Here are some ways you can prepare your young child for his or her new sibling.
Tell your child at the right time
You may already know that experts advise that parents avoid announcing a new pregnancy until the risks of the first trimester have passed. However, with a toddler or preschooler, it may be a good idea to wait even longer, until the pregnancy is beginning to show. Young children may have a difficult time conceptualizing a pregnancy without a visual aid to help them understand.
If you decide to wait to tell your child about the pregnancy, it might be advisable to wait until that point to make the announcement to your friends and family as well. This way, nobody will run the risk of accidentally ruining the surprise for your child.
Understand the pregnancy from the child’s point of view
You’re excited to see your family growing, and can’t wait to meet your new baby. You likely have daydreams about your child and your new baby playing and getting to know each other. However, your child may see it differently.
A pregnancy is a very confusing thing for a young child. Try not to give long explanations or complicated details to your preschooler, who may not understand. For example, if your child asks where babies come from, you can give a simplified answer, such as, “Babies grow inside the mother’s belly.”
It’s also useful to remember that, up to now, your child had your sole attention. If she seems upset about having to share her toys when the baby comes, ask her to talk about her feelings and listen to her fears. Give her reassurance about her place in the family, and remind her how important she is to you.
Involve your child in preparations
You can encourage your child to feel more comfortable with the thought of his new sibling by involving him in preparations. He can listen to the baby inside mom’s belly, or feel it kick. Go through his baby pictures together and talk about what it was like when he was a baby. If it won’t be overwhelming, you may even want to bring your child to prenatal appointments with you. It will be difficult for him to no longer have your undivided attention when the baby arrives, but involving him in preparations can go a long way in creating a connection instead of resentment.
Be realistic about how life will change
Many young children are made to believe that new babies are playmates, and are disappointed when their new sibling does little more than sleep, cry, and eat. It can be tempting to ease your child’s unhappiness by saying she will have a new baby to play with, but it can also be a disappointment to your child later on.
One helpful strategy to help your child understand the reality of life with a new baby is to visit friends who have infants of their own. This way, your child can see firsthand what newborns are like. Alternately, you can use a doll or stuffed animal to demonstrate the correct way to hold, touch, and behave near a newborn baby.
Pediatrician Dr. Alan Greene recommends referring to the new baby as “your little brother” rather than “the new baby.”
New babies are a big life change, and that can seem doubly so when having to prepare your toddler or preschooler for their new sibling’s arrival. However, understanding the concept from your child’s point of view, involving him in preparations, and getting him ready for the changes to come will go a long way in making the new sibling’s arrival that much easier.