You’ve got this mommy thing down pat and now you’re ready to have another one. Sure, you and your partner might be excited, but once your older child meets the new baby he might not feel the same way.
Experts say it’s normal for older sibs to be jealous, act out and fear that they’ll no longer be number one, but with some understanding and a few simple strategies, they’ll be best buds in no time.
1. Start early.
During your pregnancy, prepare your child for the new baby by talking about what to expect and reading books about what it’s like to have a new baby at home. Instead of telling your child your due date, tell her that the baby will be born when the weather gets warmer, for example, which is easier for little ones to understand. You can also let your child feel the baby’s kicks, help you pick out baby clothes or pack your bag for the hospital.
2. Make the introduction special.
If possible, have your older child meet the new baby when no other visitors are around. This special time will be kept private and allow your older child to feel like he’s included, said Diane Lang, a psychotherapist, positive living expert and author based in Flanders, New Jersey.
3. See it through their eyes.
Your child depends on you to meet all of his needs and your presence makes him feel safe. But once you pick up the new baby, panic sets in because as children, “we’re actually biologically programmed to make sure our parents’ attention shifts back to us.” said Dr. Laura Markham, a clinical psychologist in New York City and author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life.”
“It feels like it’s an emergency that the child’s most important resources to stay alive are suddenly being diverted elsewhere.”
4. Let your child cry.
It’s normal for your older child to feel sad, left out or unwilling to be involved with the baby, but it’s important to help her identify her feelings, be empathic and comfort her during the transition.
“We have to allow for the negative feelings to be expressed and then the child is free to feel the positive ones,” Markham said.
5. Get help.
Once you’re home, your older child can help get you a diaper, swaddle the baby or put on music. But if your child isn’t interested, don’t push it.
6. Stick to the schedule.
If your child is in daycare, summer camp or takes a music class, keep up his normal schedule and routines the best you can to give him the consistency he needs.
7. Keep them busy.
Even if you are spending mommy and me time together, chances are the minute you sit down to feed your baby, your older child will start acting out. Ignore her and she’ll do anything she can to get a reaction. So come up with activities that will occupy your child— reading, a sensory box or special toys you take out only during that time.
8. Spend time together.
Although you and your partner have even less time now, carving out any amount to spend one-on-one with your other child is important. So let your child pick a fun activity you can do together while your baby naps or have dad take him to the park.
“The older child in the beginning tremendously needs reassurance that you’re still there for them and there’s some time that they don’t have to compete with the baby,” Markham said.
9. Teach empathy.
Research shows that “as we talk about what the baby might be feeling, the older child begins to see them as more of a person with feelings of their own,” Markham said. So when your baby cries, smiles or coos, you can ask your older child what he thinks the baby is feeling or thinking.
"Not only does your child become more empathic toward the baby, but your child becomes more emotionally intelligent about all people,” she said.
10. Shower them with love.
Some children who have trouble expressing their feelings or are too young to do so may act out.
“If you’re seeing that, it’s usually a sign that they just need more love and attention,” Lang said.
Offer lots of hugs and kisses, and plenty of praise and positive reinforcement for good behavior.
11. Don’t push them to grow up.
When your child does act his age, praise him but don’t push it.
“You’re trying to make the child into something they’re not, and then they feel worse and more like a failure when they can’t do it," Lang said.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.