Ways To Ease The Transition!
Aim for understanding
When Judy Gruen of Los Angeles had her second son, she thought she'd done a good job of preparing her older son, two-year-old Noah. They read books, talked about the new arrival, and shared the baby's development in a language that Noah could understand.
But after little Ben arrived, Noah began having "tremendous, unbelievably long-lasting tantrums," says Gruen, now mother of four and author of Carpool Tunnel Syndrome: Motherhood as Shuttle Diplomacy (Heaven Ink Publishers, 2000). He even slid under the bed and screamed so much Gruen thought he was stuck, but when she moved the mattress to let him out, he went right back under. "I realized he just had to get [his feelings] out of his system," she recalls.
The Gruen family's experiences are actually quite common, say experts. Because of their level of development, toddlers and preschoolers may be unable to share their feelings about the arrival of a new child. "The idea of a new baby coming can be very threatening," says Sal Severe, PhD, author of How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too! (Greentree Publishing, 1997). It's up to you, as the parent, to figure out what your youngster is trying to say and greet their feelings with understanding, even if they act out those emotions in hard-to-handle ways -- like screaming fits.
Here are some tips to help make the transition as smooth as possible.
Let your children take part in preparation
"The key is keeping them involved in the whole process," says Severe, himself the father of four. Kids can come to doctor's appointments, see the baby on the ultrasound and help get the nursery ready.
Heidi Murkoff, co-author of the best-selling What to Expect? series and author of a new series of books for toddlers and preschoolers, including What to Expect When Mommy's Having a Baby (see below), suggests kids can "help" Mom stay healthy by exercising and eating well. This way, says Murkoff, "the whole family's helping the baby to grow."
Share the good and the bad
While having a child is a joyous occasion, there are some ups and downs to pregnancy and new babies. Tell your children what to expect from the experience and why Mommy may not be feeling her usual energetic self during the pregnancy, says Murkoff. While it's good to be positive, you also want to be realistic.
Severe reminds parents to discuss changes to the family's routines before they occur. You may not be able to eat at the same types of restaurants, he says, or drop everything to go to the movies or get ice cream. "Talk about what those changes might be," he says, so no one is caught off-guard.
Investigate sibling classes
Many birthing facilities now offer sibling preparation classes for kids as young as two. These classes are usually just a few hours long, and the instructor leads the group through a discussion of topics such as how to hold a baby, why babies cry, and what it's like to be a big sister or brother. They often include a trip to the maternity ward and a visit to the nursery. This can be a great opportunity to show your child where you'll be staying for labor and delivery, as hospitals can be scary places to little ones.
Talk about the actual birthing experience
Nothing could be scarier to a toddler than to wake up and realize that Mommy and Daddy are both gone, and a virtual stranger has been left to take care of them. Prepare your kids for your hospital stay by talking with them beforehand, making sure they're comfortable with their interim caretaker, and that they know you'll be home eventually -- with their new brother or sister!
Wendy Kudlicka, a Florida mom of nine, suggests giving kids "trial runs" overnight with Grandma or whoever will be filling in for you, to ensure that the transition is made with the minimum of disruption. Murkoff also encourages briefing the caregiver on your child's routines -- everything from what toys they take to bed, to what time they like their afternoon snack -- in order to keep things as close to normal as possible. "Preparation is the key," she says.
Get your child a baby of their own
Once the baby is home, one of the best ways to keep your child involved is to get them their own baby doll to take care of while you're caring for your newborn. Your son or daughter can then "feed" the doll while you're feeding the baby. Not only does this give them something productive to do while you're otherwise occupied, it also offers a feeling of control, says Murkoff, something critical in a process that is almost entirely out of their sphere of influence. "Anytime you can parallel what Mom's doing, I think that's a great idea," agrees Severe.
Be prepared for some negative reactions
No matter how well you explain what's happening to your family, and no matter how much you think your child understands, some level of jealousy or sibling rivalry is likely to arise. "This child is not used to sharing your love and attention," reminds Murkoff.
By realizing these negative feelings are normal and giving your kids room to express themselves, you'll minimize their effect and reassure your older children that they're not "bad" for feeling jealous. This is also an excellent opportunity to reaffirm your feelings for them. "Make sure that your other children know that they still love them, that they're not being replaced," says Severe.
Though there will be rough spots, introducing a new child to the household doesn't have to be traumatic. With some extra attention and understanding, even the youngest child can see the new, larger family as a good thing -- and that there's always going to be enough love to go around.
Books to help
The Berenstain Bears' New Baby, by Stan and Jan Berenstain Random House, 1974. Recommended for ages four to eight, but kids of all ages will enjoy this classic.
What to Expect When Mommy's Having a Baby, by Heidi Murkoff HarperCollins Juvenile Books, 2000. Recommended for toddlers and preschoolers, but some of the explanations may be beyond a three-year-old. If so, talk about the colorful pictures, using the text as a guide for parents.
Arthur's New Baby Lift-the-Flaps Board Book, by Marc Tolon Brown; Bullseye Books, 1999. Recommended for toddlers and preschoolers.