QUESTION: We’re about to have our second child and I’ve heard so many different accounts of how our 4-year-old daughter is going to react to a new baby. How can we prepare her for a new addition to the family and make sure she doesn’t feel jealous or excluded?
BBB: What a timely question this is for me. I’ve just returned from spending most of the month of December helping my daughter and son-in-law adjust to life with two kids, by nannying their 2-year-old daughter after the birth of her new brother.
It’s one thing for a 2-year-old to adjust to life with a new baby; it’s quite another for a four-year-old. Your daughter has been the center of attention for four whole years. Now she has to share her most precious possessions – her parents. No matter how you present it, that is no fun!
Let’s start at the end. Regardless of how perfectly you prepare or orchestrate her new sibling’s arrival and adjustment, you cannot control your 4-year-old’s feelings. You cannot make her feel overjoyed and completely accepting of this new one.
With my own granddaughter, I thought we were home free. On day three, she was still thrilled to be in my arms, to have her “BeeBee” be 100 percent available to her. Then it hit. The moment any of us touched Baby Ollie, she went out of her mind, screaming, “No Ollie! No Ollie!” It didn’t matter who was holding him. Even with BBB as the nanny, reality is reality.
There are a few things you can do to soften the hard hitting reality – that baby is here to stay forever more!
1. Before the baby is born, as often and as much as possible, visit friends who have new infants. Let your daughter spend time in the world of infants, complete with squawking, pooping, breast (or bottle) feedings. Most children envision the “new baby brother” being born, ready to hop on a tricycle and play! Be sure that you hold that infant, introducing her to Mommy loving someone besides her.
2. Allow your daughter to help you set up the new baby’s room. Then hang out in there and get comfy. You’ll all be spending lots of time in that room in the days after the baby is born.
3. Of course buy your daughter her own baby, stroller, bath and such. She will care for her baby while you care for yours.
4. Once the baby has arrived, try not to be too nuts with “Don’ts.” Find as many ways as you can to say “Yes.” My daughter has been fantastic about allowing her 2 year old to touch, hold, and be involved with the baby without so many and constant admonitions and restrictions (“Don’t do this, don’t touch that.”) Of course you don’t want all those school germs kissed right into the baby’s face, but the sad truth is, it’s unavoidable in the end. It takes patience and the knowledge that new babies are truly sturdier and more resilient than we think.
5. Take pains not to “shhhhhh” away the household noise.(And that baby will be a much better sleeper, unlike your first, as a result.) You don’t want to create another reason for resentment.
6. Enlist your daughter’s help whenever possible. She can hand you wipes for diapering, soap for baths, shake rattles for entertainment. Ask her to open the baby’s gifts as they arrive. She will love being your “special helper.”
7. Speaking of gifts, I am not one who believes that the big sister needs to receive a gift from her new brother upon his arrival nor gifts from well-meaning friends. I do not believe in using gifts and “things” to soothe hard realities. Might as well start the lessons now.
8. Create a “nursing basket.” It is a container with a few, yet unseen, toys/books for the older sibling to use only when you are nursing. When you are done, the basket is put away. Change the contents every week. It makes feeding time something to look forward and eases the pain of Mommy not giving her all the attention she wants.
9. Try to keep your daughter’s regular schedule and routines just as they have been pre-baby. Doing so will help her to feel safe and secure in her life.
10. Be ready to hand off the baby to a willing set of hands. Babies need love from almost anyone; your daughter will need you.
As is the case with all changes, it will take time. Try to keep your cool and be on your daughter’s team.
Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator, and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers, and other professionals. She is the award-winning author of the bestselling, “Just Tell Me What to Say” and “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” Betsy has been featured on the Today Show, The Early Show and Good Morning America and has been cited in Parents Magazine, Twins Magazine, Family Circle and many more. Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have three grandchildren, so far.