Having your second child is an exciting time, however it can also be stressful for your first child, who suddenly goes from being your one and only child, to a big brother or sister. Whether your only child is 2 or 10 there will be an adjustment period for him or her. Fortunately, there are some things that you can do as parents to help prepare them for their new role. Here are just a few ideas:
Big brothers and big sisters are special. Speak in positive terms to them about what it means to be a big sis or big brother. Really play up their new found role and help them to feel special and needed. You will want to discuss how they can be your helper and how much the baby will need them. You may want to assign them a specific task, something age appropriate. For a younger child, fetching diapers for you might be a good one. Help your child to appreciate how much you need their help. At the same time, don’t go overboard and talk about the baby too much. Your older child is unique and needs to understand that your love for him is secure.
Don’t plan any other major changes. This would not be a good time to introduce any other major changes into their life, such as potty training, different sleeping arrangements or any other similar changes. You don’t want to overwhelm them nor add any added stress to their lives or yours. If your toddler is still nursing, there is no reason to stop during your pregnancy or even afterwards when the new baby arrives. Many moms have found that tandem nursing (breastfeeding siblings who are not twins) is very rewarding and a wonderful way to ease the transition for the older child. When they are assured of your place in their lap, they are not as likely to be jealous or resent the new baby.
Talk to them. Children understand more than we think. So, spend some time talking with them about the big event. You can tell them about what will happen when you go to have the baby, where they will be staying, and what they can expect. If you are having the baby at home or in a birthing center, you might want to consider allowing them to be with you at the birth. Children who are close by the mother during her labor are more likely to view the new baby as “ours” instead of an alien intruder! Some parents have found it helpful to read books that talk about getting a new baby in the house. These often explain how new babies need constant care and feeding.
Get help. Going from one to two (or two to three, and on and on!) is a wonderful time to ask friends, family, Grandparents and others for a little help. While you and the baby are resting, could someone play with your toddler, arrange a playdate or take them to the park for a couple of hours? A little extra one on one time with a beloved adult can make up for the fact that you are going to be giving the toddler a little less attention for awhile. This is a time for Dad to step up too. While he does need time to bond with the newborn, this can be a time of growth in the older child as he embraces Dad as someone who can also meet his needs.
Watch your language. When the baby arrives, be careful how you phrase things. If your older child asks you for something and you can’t help them because you’re caring for the baby, don’t “blame” it on the baby. Say something like, “My hands are busy now, but I can play with you in a few minutes. Why don’t you come snuggle next to me and I’ll read you a story?”
Another tip that some moms have found helpful is to talk up the older child to the baby. We moms love to go ga-ga over our babies, but why not brag on the older sibling? “Ooh look at what big brother is doing! He’s building a block tower and it’s sooooo tall!” This can make the older child’s heart swell with pride.
Don’t feel guilty. It’s very common for moms to feel guilty about displacing their older child, but children have been dealing with the arrival of siblings since the beginning of time! They will be just fine, and will gain a playmate and perhaps a lifelong friend. Be positive about the transition and your child will likely pick up on your emotions.