Preparing for a New Baby
Friday, July 27, 2012
Meet Dr. Mackey
I am thrilled to be a part of Children's National Health System's ’s new parenting blog. I’ll be a regular contributor to the “Get Psyched Friday” posts, which is an area near and dear to me. I am a child psychologist and have been at Children’s National since 2006. I currently work primarily with the Obesity Clinic and Children’s Research Institute.
For my first post, I wanted to introduce myself and cover a topic that hits close to home. I am a mother of two. My girls are 3 1/2 years and 3 1/2 months old. You will see me refer to them as L and C. They are the light of my life but keep me constantly challenged.
Preparing Your Child for a New Sibling
For my first post I wanted to write about something that is clearly near and dear to my heart as I have very recent experience.
When to start the discussion?
- Time moves differently for kids and nine months is a long time! Start talking to your kids about the new arrival when you would feel comfortable sharing with others (e.g., after the first trimester for many).
- Don’t make it seem like the birth is imminent. Give them a reference point, like “after your birthday,” “at Christmas” to help them understand that it is something in the future.
What do I say?
- When you start the discussion, make sure to tell your child in ways they can understand.
- Books (like I’m a Big Sister) can be helpful.
- Having your children around peers who have younger siblings can help your child understand what it means to have a sibling.
- For those who find out the sex of the baby ahead of time or have a name picked out, refer to the baby in that way.
- For us, this meant often saying, “When C is here...”
- Talk to your older child about what it is like to have a baby in the house.
- For example, we often reminded our older daughter that babies cry to tell us what’s wrong.
- We also gave our daughter some ideas (like giving a pacifier, patting the baby gently) of what she could do to help.
- Often hospitals offer a sibling tour. This is a great way to get your older child familiar with the hospital and excited about the new arrival.
What about when the baby arrives?
- At the first meeting, make sure Mom is available to give full attention to the older sibling and is not holding the baby.
- A gift from the baby to the big sibling can be a good idea.
- Try not to say “no” constantly when the older sibling is interacting with the baby. It can be nerve-wracking to see the older sibling poke and prod your newborn, but unless your newborn is in danger, guide the older sibling gently, praise for appropriate handling, and try to avoid screaming “NO!” every time the older child approaches the baby.
- Make sure both parents have special time with the older child without the baby around for at least 15 minutes a day.
- Be prepared for resistance from the older child and know that this might happen at various points. For us, we were fine at the beginning, but when the baby got less sleepy and fussier, that’s when our older daughter decided her little sister wasn’t all she was cracked up to be.
Just last week, L said to me, “When C cries, I want to take her back to the hospital.” When that happens, acknowledge the validity of their feelings. This is normal and understandable! However, when my daughter pulled the baby’s hair, it was fair game to give a time out and talk about how it is okay to be upset that the baby is here, cries, or takes Mommy’s attention, but it is never okay to hurt the baby.
It’s a transition for everyone, but an exciting time in any family. Talk to your pediatrician or a professional if you need more tips specific to your family.
For those who have been through it, what did you find to be the most challenging part of parenting more than one child?
About the Expert
Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two young girls. She has been at Children’s National since 2006 and has been a regular contributor to our “Get Psyched Friday” features since 2012.