Start by putting yourself in your toddler’s shoes. Right now, family life is pretty predictable — he knows what to expect in the daily routine and knows how he fits into the family. And while your child probably complains from time to time, he’s probably pretty content.
Break the news early
A new family member is big news, and sure to rock your child’s world. Give your child time to adjust by sharing the news with him as soon as you’re ready to share it with everyone else. “Let your child know about the baby as soon as you announce your pregnancy or adoption, since you’ll likely be talking about it — a lot,” says Elizabeth Pantley, author of Perfect Parenting: The Dictionary of 1,000 Parenting Tips. “It’s so much better that you tell your child yourself and don’t have him overhear conversations and make guesses about the important news. Even a toddler can figure out that something big is brewing. It should come from you.”
Explain what will change
Young kids tend to be incredibly egocentric; the world, in their eyes, really is all about them. What they want — and need — to know is how a new baby is going to affect their life. What they really want to know is how things are going to stay the same. Throughout your pregnancy, explain what to expect in simple, easy-to-understand language. (Mommy will probably spend a lot of time holding the baby.) You can ease your child’s fear of change by reminding and reassuring him of things that will stay the same. (I might be holding the baby, but I’ll still read you a story in the afternoon.)
Get him involved
Whenever possible, “include your child in the process of preparing for baby,” Pantley says. “Let him feel the baby’s movements. Allow him to help set up the baby’s bedroom. Let him choose baby clothes when you shop. All of these things help him feel like it’s his baby, too.”
Have some prep talks
Talk to your child about what a newborn baby looks like and what a newborn can and cannot do. Many kids expect a cuddly, chubby, giggling baby that can play peekaboo and other fun games, and are surprised to find out that they can’t really play with a newborn. If you can, arrange for you and your child to spend time with someone who has an infant.
Keep it upbeat
Be positive about the new baby. “Avoid using ‘the baby’ as the reason for thing he’ll see as negative, such as, ‘Don’t play with that, it’s for the baby,’” Pantley says. You might need (or want) to keep your child away from certain things, but instead of sowing the seeds of resentment, use positive words. Pantley suggests something like, “Look at this toy! Here, you have this and I’ll hold that one.”
Tell him the plan
As your due date draws closer, talk to your child about your birth plan. He doesn’t need to know the nitty-gritty details (epidurals are TMI for toddlers!), but he does need to know that you may be gone for a while, that Grandma (or whoever) will take care of him while you’re gone and that you’ll return home — with the baby — as soon as you can. Most hospitals and birth centers offer family tours; take your child on one, if at all possible.
Spend time together
Spending special one-on-one time with your older child, both now and after the baby is born, will also help your child adjust to a new sibling. “You don’t have to plan major outings,” Pantley says. “Floor-time spent building blocks together or a few minutes making clay snakes can go a long way in convincing your child that he holds an important place in your day and in your heart.”
Above all, stay calm. “The more peaceful you are about welcoming your new baby into the family, the more readily your older child will accept the little newcomer,” Pantley says.
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