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Prepare your kids for a new sibling

Tips for a smooth transition once the new baby comes home

Is your little one having mixed feelings about his new brother or sister being born because he won’t be the “baby” anymore? Are you worried about how he will react once his sibling actually arrives? Maybe your preteen is concerned that you will no longer have time to trek her around to activities. When kids feel part of the equation, they are apt to handle this change in the family dynamic quite well – no matter what their age may be.

Breaking the news to toddlers and young children
It is important to let even young children participate in the prenatal experience, although you might want to wait a bit before sharing the news with them.

“We waited to announce the news until as late as possible because they were so young and didn’t have a concept of time,” says Nancy Tsoubris, LCSWR, a Rhinebeck mother of three and a clinical social worker. “I think I told my son when I was about six months pregnant. With my third baby, I told the kids a little earlier because they were more aware of the conversations going on around them and the size of my belly.”

READ MORE: How to successfully introduce your dog to your new baby

It can also be helpful to familiarize your child with babies. Allow your child to help pick out items for the baby’s arrival or possible names for the new sibling.

“Make it exciting! Focus on how she will be a big sister. Let her help with getting things ready,” suggests Michelle Boye, a Woodstock mother of three girls, ages 5, 3 and 6 months.

Boye also suggests that you allow your children to help get the nursery, changing area, and clothing ready for the baby. This helps them feel included and less likely to be jealous of the baby once he arrives.

“Remind her that she was once a baby and what she did at that age,” she says. “While pregnant with both my second and third child, I gave my children dolls which they often carried under their shirts,” adds Tsoubris. “I also brought them to a late term doctor’s appointment so they could hear the baby’s heart beating.”

Children often find touching their mother’s stomach during fetal movement to be a delightful game. “They loved feeling the baby move,” Tsoubris recalls, “and they still talk about the time when one kicked the other from inside mommy’s belly.”

Find out if the hospital where you will deliver your baby has a sibling class. Teri Carpino, LPN, teaches age-specific sibling classes on Saturday afternoons at Kingston Hospital in Kingston. The sibling gets a tour of the maternity wing, a snack, and a lesson on safety. Carpino teaches the siblings about tasks they can do with mom’s help, such as feeding and changing the baby, and they are shown how to hold the baby safely.

The arrival of a newborn considerably alters your toddler’s world, even if he has been well-prepared for his new brother’s or sister’s arrival. Therefore, he should not have to worry about other major changes, such as toilet training or learning to sleep in a big bed. Try to initiate these changes several months before or after the new baby arrives; it is not uncommon for young children to regress with milestone accomplishments once the new baby comes home.

“I remember my son completely ignoring the baby when I brought her home,” Tsoubris recalls. “He was only 18 months old. It wasn’t until my daughter started making some noises that he had a problem, which occurred mostly at feeding time. So I made a basket of special toys for him to play with only at feeding time, which included a doll that he also fed. My second child had a harder time. She was 2½ and was almost fully toilet trained. That went out the window and she wasn’t toilet trained until she was three.”

It will help your child if he feels a part of the process. “I had the kids participate in caring for the baby as much as possible and each had their own stroller, doll, and highchair during the times that the baby needed attention,” Tsoubris says.

READ MORE: Tips for decorating baby's first room

Don’t neglect your older child
Don’t assume that older children will take the numerous changes a new baby brings to family life in stride. Even teenagers can be affected by the change in lifestyle. Be sure to talk to your older kids about their concerns. They might be worried about your availability with homework help or carpools. Try to work out new schedules and solutions together.

Your older child can also be a huge help to you. Moms are often exhausted and overwhelmed when a new baby first comes home. Older siblings can heat bottles, change diapers, and rock baby while Mom is busy with something else.

“Older children can help with the care of the baby,” Carpino says. “However, it’s important for older children to realize that they are not ultimately responsible for the baby.” You may want to work out a babysitter fee for your older child or a special night out with you once per month to show appreciation for the helping hand.

Quality time – a must for ALL of your kids!
Remember that jealousy often stems from your child feeling threatened that you will not love him as much now that there is another baby in the house. Children may act out and throw tantrums in an attempt to get mom’s attention back. Younger children may regress to behavior that was already mastered; for instance, recently potty-trained toddlers may soil their pants, children may restart a thumb-sucking habit or they may leave their own bed at night to sleep with mommy.

Set aside time, on a regular basis, to do something fun together with your older children. “When the baby slept, I made sure each had some one-on-one time and ‘big kid’ time,” says Tsoubris. Fortunately, your new baby will sleep often the first few months, so it won’t be too difficult to do this. By the time baby is wakeful a good part of the day, your older children will have acclimated to their new family role. Don’t forget your older kids, even if they don’t express the need for your attention. Your preteen might appreciate a night out to the movies while Dad babysits.

Myrna Beth Haskell is a freelance writer and a mom of two living in Dutchess County. She has been a regular contributor to Hudson Valley Parent for seven years.