Just over a year ago, my husband and I learned that we were expecting our second child. While we were overjoyed to be adding to our family, Rob and I were also anxious about how our 18-month-old son would react and adjust to the new arrival. As a first child (and only grandchild on my side of the family), Bobby was used to being the center of attention. The upcoming change was going to, in the words of my mother, “turn his world upside down.”
Naturally, I scoured the Internet in search of advice and found tons of it. Many of the articles I found supported each other, and just as many contradicted each other. While every child is different in terms of situation and temperament, the following strategies seemed to work well as Rob and I prepared our Baby No. 1 for the arrival of Baby No. 2.
Provide concrete details versus abstract ideas.
With a young child, it’s better to wait until you (or your spouse or partner) starts showing. Pointing to a growing belly and talking about the baby “in Mommy’s tummy” provides some physical evidence of a change that’s about to occur. I’m pretty sure all Bobby thought about my bump at first was that it was a great shelf to stand on when in the swimming pool. But once he was able to feel the baby’s movement, he seemed to think my belly was pretty cool.
Strengthen the bond with Dad.
If your first child is extremely attached to Mom (or if Mom’s the primary caregiver), it’s going to be a bit rough once she’s busy with the new baby—especially if she’s breastfeeding. It’s a good idea for your child to spend a little more one-on-one time with the other parent before the baby arrives so it’s not such a shock when suddenly Mom’s not as available. Bobby has always been kind of a “Daddy’s boy,” so we accomplished this step pretty easily (a little too easily in my opinion).
Schedule big changes for before or after the due date.
The arrival of a new sibling is probably going to be the biggest change that has occurred in your first child’s life so far. It’s best to get any other changes (e.g., a new childcare situation, a new bed, potty-training) out of the way in advance, or you might want to hold off until things have settled down a bit.
For instance, even though we knew the new baby would sleep in a bassinet in our room for the first few months, Rob and I still moved Bobby out of the crib and into a toddler bed about a month before I was due. We figured that would give him plenty of time to get used to the new bed and not feel as if he was being “kicked out” by the new arrival.
Read books, but don’t overdo it.
Of course, we received tons of books from family and friends about new babies and becoming a big brother, but we used them sparingly. We didn’t want to shove the topic down his throat and cause resentment. One of my favorites was I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole. It emphasized the positive aspects of having a sibling and the idea that the older child would continue to have a special place in his parents’ heart.
Bring out the baby gear early.
This was one of the best pieces of advice for us. We brought out the bassinet, car seat, rattles, mobile, etc., about two months before we needed them. This gave Bobby plenty of time to “rediscover” all his old stuff and get used to it lying around. At first he kept trying to use everything himself (including wanting to take his nightly bath in the baby bathtub), but eventually he chose one of his stuffed animals to be the “baby.” Every night, he’d pretend to feed his toy Glo Worm with a bottle and then lay it down in the crib to go to sleep. Rob and I were quite touched by the nurturing side we began to see.
Armed with all these preparation tactics, we felt we had done our job by the time Baby Henry joined our family in late January. As to how Bobby really did adjust to having a younger brother... well, that is the subject of a future article.
Jennifer Eckert is an editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with one husband, two sons, and three cats.