Whether one's pregnancy is by accident or intent, it isn't unusual for small families to expand. While the impending birth of a new child may seem like a blessing to the adults in the family, the current child may sometimes feel threatened or unhappy about the prospect of an additional family member. This can be a problem when the current child is old enough to understand what is happening or when the child is accustomed to being the sole source of their parents' attention and affections.
If not addressed, a jealous or angry child can create major problems in the household. These problems can range from temper tantrums to accidentally harming the newborn. The best way to counter any potential problems is that parents must take the time to acquaint their child with the idea of a new baby and provide reassurance.
Before the Baby is Born
Before the new baby is born, there are typically a number of changes that occur. In preparation for this, parents should start by telling their children that there will be a new addition to the family. Depending on the age of the child and the parents' decision on how much to tell, they may want to explain to the child where the baby is growing. The mother's appearance is one of the changes that the child will notice, and allowing children to talk to and touch the mother's belly can help the bonding process. When discussing the new baby, share pictures of the child when they were was an infant. Share stories of when the child was an infant when explaining what to expect when there is a baby in the house. Depending on the age of the child, it is also helpful to involve the child in decisions such as how to decorate the baby's room, choosing a name, and selecting what the baby should wear home from the hospital. Taking one's children to doctor's appointments can also make the baby more of a reality, especially if the child can listen to the baby's heartbeat during the appointment. It may also be useful to check with the hospital to see if there are classes available for children who are expecting a new sibling. Most importantly, parents should try not to disrupt routines that they share with their child, and they should provide reassurance that they will continue to love and cherish them just the same, even after the birth of the new baby.
When the Baby is Born
When the new baby is born, the mother should call the older sibling from the hospital and let the child know that she will be home soon. If possible, let the child visit Mom and the new infant in the hospital. When seeing her older child for the first time after giving birth, the mother should hug, cuddle, and greet the child before introducing the new baby. This show of affection is important whether it takes place in the hospital or at home. Buying a gift for the older sibling is also an option. Tell the child the gift is from the new baby to help make the experience of meeting the baby an even more special one. Family members who are meeting the baby for the first time should also make it a point to greet and hug the older child first so that there are no feelings of being ignored or left out.
After the Baby Comes Home
Once the baby comes home, let the older sibling know that it is normal for the baby to cry frequently. The child should not expect to play with the baby for some time. Older children should be allowed to hold the infant under careful supervision. Involving children in the care of the infant will also make them feel useful and involved. When possible, parents should try not to disrupt regular activities with the older child or children.
Although one's older children may appear to be happy with their new sibling, parents should never assume that this is the case. Children, particularly children who are younger than 12 years old, should not be left alone with the infant. Supervision is crucial to ensure that they do not accidentally harm the baby. Parents must also be aware of any signs of anger or resentment toward the baby. If a child displays anger at the infant, parents should talk with them about their feelings and show affection and understanding. Praising positive accomplishments is also crucial and shows older children how special they are.