When my oldest son first met his younger brother in the hospital the day after he was born, the "love at first sight" feeling was definitely written all over his sweet toddler face. However, when baby brother came home and he realized that a new baby meant less attention from mommy, the love connection that I thought he had made turned into jealous toddler rampages and exasperated attempts to steal the spotlight. I found myself wondering what so many parents do in this situation — How do I get my kid to like our new baby?
As I would come to learn in the weeks, months, and years that followed, I had made some crucial missteps when it came to preparing my older child for a new baby. Although he was less than 2 years old at the time, many steps could have been taken to help him understand that his world would change when the new baby was born. I spoke with experts recently who explain that regardless of age, preparing a child for the arrival of a new baby prior to giving birth is critical in cementing a happy, harmonious relationship between your older child and a new baby.
Maureen Healy, author of The Emotionally Healthy Child, offers several examples of how to incorporate the new baby into a child's life well before the baby is born. "I would give the child a task like creating a photo album of the baby, or help decorate the baby's room. The more you involve the older child with the preparation and enthusiasm for the baby, the better it is for everyone. I might even say [to the older child], 'We can plant a tree with a little seedling to remind us when your baby sister was born, and watch both of them grow. You can name the tree if you like.' Something fun like this is good, too," she tells Romper.
She also recommends showing older children photos of themselves as babies in preparation for what they will encounter once the baby is born, noting your excitement about their new role as an older sibling. Healy says that reading books to prepare your older child is another way to help them understand their new role. "I would find suitable books like The New Baby, I'm a Big Brother, Welcome Little One, or I'm a Big Sister to help use this as an empowering and teachable moment," she says.
This type of creative involvement does take time though, and it is possible that, like I did, you may not have gotten around to helping your child prepare for the new baby's arrival. That's OK. Don't panic. In the event that preparations beforehand don't quite pan out to be what you hoped for, or you simply run out of time to have teachable moments because pregnancy can be rough, clinical psychologist Venus Mahmoodi, PhD, with Seleni Institute says there are ways to help an older child find happiness after the baby is born as well. The first is to provide plenty of reassurance. "Tell them you love them. Tell them you love them just as much as before," she tells Romper.
"Spend quality time with the older child. If you have help, have someone care for the newborn and spend one-on-one time with the older child. Be in the moment and give them all your attention — no phones, side conversations, etc.," Dr. Mahmoodi continues. "This does not need to be all day. It can be 10 minutes, one hour, or a few hours. But it has to happen consistently. Let the older child help with baby — related chores, help with chores, and help you. Praise them for their help. They can push the stroller, buckle their seatbelt."
She also encourages talking to older children about their feelings and says that validating their emotions is key to keeping the peace. "Validate the emotions, whether it's jealousy, anger, sadness. Validate it. Name it for them if they don't know," she says.
Both Dr. Mahmoodi and Healy agree that purchasing a gift from the baby for big sister or brother is an oldie — but a goodie — that tends to work like a charm. "Of course, the old standard works, which is [to] buy a gift from the baby to their older brother and sister. This starts things off on a good note," Healy says.