Preparing Your Child to Explore the New Baby
Whether you make the first introduction in the hospital or when you come home, the transition of having a new baby will take some preparation. This is why it is so important to start talking about what your older child can expect when the new baby arrives. Depending on the age of your older child the concept of adding a member to their existing family unit may seem very abstract while you are still pregnant. Their personality and age may also affect the interest they show in the new baby at first. Take it slow, don’t force this concept on them. They simply may not understand or they may have some understanding and are still processing the big news.
Having a doll or stuffed animal, something material and in the physical world, that your child can relate to before the baby arrives, is a great first step in starting the discussion on how they will interact with the new baby. You can begin to show your child how they can gently touch or hold the baby. Show your child all the places on the doll or stuffed animal that is OK to touch such as arms, hands, legs and feet. Having this practice will help them develop skills and understanding before the baby arrives. You can give them reinforcement and praise as they interact with the doll or stuffed animal. Regard it as something very special that is fragile and needs to be well taken care of. Then, relate the doll to the new baby, reminding how special and fragile the baby will be at first. As you practice you can remind your child what a great helper he/she is and how lucky the baby will be to have him/her as his/her big brother/sister.
It may also be a good idea to establish guidelines regarding when it is ok for your child to touch or hold the new baby and other ways your child can help care for the baby. Folding burp cloths, sorting laundry, handing you the diaper or singing to the baby are some great ways your child can help in taking care of the baby. Continue to reinforce what a great big brother/sister they are, even when they are helping in ways when they don’t physically touch or hold the baby.
Remember, even with practice and reinforcement beforehand, the transition may be overwhelming when the baby actually arrives. Your child may not show interest at first, but you can still reinforce what a great sibling they are by letting the baby sleep or giving it space. When they are ready to hold or touch the baby or help you with tasks, they will let you know. Take advantage of the baby’s natural grasp reflex by encouraging the older child to put their finger in the baby’s hand. When the baby grasps the older child’s hand let him/her know that the baby is showing affection by wanting to hold his/her hand. If the older child is over zealous and aggressive when the baby arrives, continue to model and reinforce gentle behavior. Be flexible and patient as the initial bonding and relationship between siblings form.