A second time pregnancy may not be new to you, but it will be exceptional for your first-born. While you and the family is excited about the turn of events, your little girl or boy will be wondering what the fuss is all about. Their level of curiosity will vary depending on their age, but, in most cases, they have a feeling of being left out. So, take time to really understand how you can prepare your child to accept the sibling that is on the way.
Let’s begin with the fact that each child has a different personality. But there are still some common factors that you need to manage, in varying degrees of intensity, depending on the temperament of your child. Here’s some advice on what, when and how to tell your child about the baby.
When do you tell?
It is difficult to identify when is the best time to tell your child about the baby, because there no set time that can be used as a benchmark. However, don’t do it till the first trimester is over, so that you know that the baby is safely on its way. Also, you don’t want your little one to tell the world before you’re ready to do so yourself.
Once the trimester is through, you need to tell the child soon because they will see the changes in mommy and their curiosity will get the better of them, wanting to know “why mommy is getting fat.”. But, you know your child better than anyone else, so you’ve got to trust your instincts to pick the right time. When you do break the news, try and associate it with a relatable timestamp for your little one, such as saying the baby will be born around Christmas, or Halloween or in the summer. Children have very good visual memory and will be able to picture the arrival when linked to a recognizable occurrence.
What do you say?
Then comes what you should say. The common tendency is to make the explanation long-winded. But the advice is to keep it short and sweet. Even something on the lines of, “Mommy and daddy have decided to have another baby so you can have a brother or sister to play with” will be enough.
Let your child absorb this piece of information and then go with the flow of their questions. Again make each answer short and clear, leaving less ambiguity around it. Some children are more curious than others, so there is no telling how many questions and answers will satisfy your child. The Q&A could go on for days.
Don’t think you know how your child will feel about having a younger sibling. Don’t assume the reaction to be either positive or negative. Over time the feelings can go from being excited about having a sibling to that of despair in having to share parents. There will be day-to-day mood swings to either extreme. Just take it in your stride, patiently explaining how you will always be there. Your child will settle into a mode of acceptance over time. If the mood is negative for a longer period of time you can use the help of a child counsellor or psychologist to help your child to see the positive side and accept the new arrival.
Moving to another Room or Bed
For many, a new baby means having to move the older sibling to another room or bed. Make the transition of your older child to another crib or room earlier. Let your child get used to the new environment and not relate it to the arrival of the baby, avoiding any feelings of resentment. So do it well before your due date but no later than the eighth month. If, for some reason you can’t do it before, then wait a few months after the baby arrives. Let the older sibling get used to being the protective one and slowly understand that the baby now needs to be in the crib near mommy. You’ll be surprised how readily the older child gives up the crib.
Learning about Babies
Your little one needs to understand what to expect from the baby. Introduce your child to the baby of a friend and let them spend time together, so that your child is ready to be the older sibling around the baby. If there is no other baby your child can get familiar with, use make-believe with a baby doll. Go through all the acts of proper handling of the baby with the doll, preparing your child for the real thing.
These visits are necessary for the mother during pregnancy and it may be good idea to have your child come along to see the baby on an ultrasound or hear the heartbeats. But be warned that this could scare some children. If it does, then you will have to make alternate arrangements of a baby-sitter while you visit the doctor. If your child is not scared, then this is a great way to create the anticipation and excitement of becoming an older brother or sister.
Children can feel threatened by the newborn taking their place of importance in the family. This is but natural for a first-born. There are a few ways to alleviate this fear. Always refer to the baby as ‘your brother’ or ‘your sister’; never as ‘mommy’s baby’. The intention is to make the older sibling feel like this is something you are doing for him or her.
Share the baby book of the older sibling, pointing out how he or she was as a baby and creating a parallel for the new baby. Talk about when your child cried or ate or slept and how mommy knew when she was hungry or wet. This will make your child want to participate in all of these activities with the baby.
Reassure your child of how special he or she is to you and how much you love them. You should continuously reiterate the message that ‘you will always be the first in our family and the baby will never take your place.’
Your child will grow to love the baby and will, on her own, offer that place to the baby.