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Helping Siblings Adjust to the Baby

Published March 12, 2008        by Nicole

Your children will react to the actual presence of the baby in different ways, depending upon their ages and personalities. However well prepared they are, they will at first almost surely be surprised and most likely be disappointed. The baby is neither the playmate your toddler or preschooler secretly expected, in spite of your warnings to the contrary, nor the smiling, gurgling picture perfect, infant your older child probably visualized. Even the baby’s sex may be disappointing, and the fact that he or she does nothing but eat, sleep and cry-and monopolize your attention-surely will be.

Your main enemy at home will be time, especially if you have a toddler or preschooler, there’ll never be enough of it. Many mothers feel guilty of neglecting the older child, because the infant takes so much time. Psychologists tell us that underlying that guilt is anger at being torn between the two children. One way to help yourself feel better and to make your older child feel wanted is to include him or her in every possible part of care for the baby. Even a two year old can fetch a diaper from upstairs, perch on a stool beside you at the dressing table, or help you pat the baby dry after a bath. Little kids can sort the baby clothes, help you gently pat up a burp after a feeding, and “entertain” the baby with nursery songs and finger plays.

Let your hold the baby on a pillow, in a big chair, when you are close. If your bottle- feeding let him or her hold the bottle for a few minutes, and demonstrate the way to gently pat the baby’s cheek to see the baby’s head turn. Warn the child about the anterior fontanel [the soft, boneless spot at the top of the baby’s head], but don’t be unduly alarmed if he or she touches it; it’s protected by a firm membrane. Do be sure to supervise very carefully any “help’ or playing with the baby. Be sure your child understands that he or she must never try to pick up or carry the baby. Avoid any possibility of harm to either child by putting the baby in the crib or in an infant seat inside the playpen if you have to leave the room.

Feeding time may be difficult, especially if you are nursing the baby-a time when your toddler or preschooler feels left out and is apt to show displeasure with you by getting into trouble. The feedings that come when your older child is napping or gone to bed for the night, or when someone else is in the house to provide distraction, will be the ones to which you can devote your attention entirely to the baby, providing the eye contact that is important. When your older child is present during feedings, settle yourselves on the sofa and cuddle him or her with your free arm as you read or watch television together. Or sit comfortably on the floor, with your back braced against a piece of furniture, and watch or help while the child works with puzzles, games, or coloring projects. The baby won’t suffer; your touch and the sound of your voice will be soothing.

What if your older child wants to try nursing again? It won’t hurt, if you are agreeable to the idea. The chances are that one quick try will be enough. The child won’t like the taste of your milk and probably won’t be able to suck properly.Wanting to go back to nursing is only one of several signs of regression you might expect, and they won’t necessarily show up immediately after the baby arrives. A return to baby habits concerning toilet training, eating, sleeping talking, or dressing may be more of a sign of stress than of jealousy. Whatever the cause, your child is trying to get your attention by competing with the baby on the baby’s own level. The best way to deal with regression is to go along with it patiently and without showing anger or disappointment; it will pass. Be generous with praise with any mature behavior and reward it with grown up privileges, such as staying up a bit later than usual or going on an important errand with Daddy.