Welcome to Educated, Common Sense Parenting! This is my parenting education/commentary blog. Start here and read About This Blog.

I believe too many parents today have let their children rule their households. Their children dictate their daily lives, demand every ounce of their attention and do not show any respect for their parents. This needs to change. The only way to do this is if parents start letting good old common sense start dictating their parenting practices and stop letting their children run the show. You're the parent. Act like one.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Preparing Your Child for Baby #2

When I found out I was pregnant with Will, I was thrilled. All I could think of was holding that little bundle of joy in my arms. After the initial excitement wore off, I started freaking out. So many things ran through my mind: Could we afford another one in daycare? Would I ever have any time to myself again? Could I possibly love anyone as much as I love Brooke? And more important, were we ready? Was Brooke ready? Right away, I began thinking about how exactly I would prepare Brooke for a new family member. I had a baby before--I knew the drill--diaper changing, midnight feedings, labor pains. But Brooke had never been through this experience before. I wanted her to be prepared and I also wanted her to be as excited as Scott and I were.

Since Baby Will was born, Brooke has never been anything short of amazing toward her little brother. She is caring, compassionate, helpful and patient with him. Some of this may have to do with her generally nurturing temperament, however I think there are certain things you can do to help your older child become a wonderful sibling:

1) Mind the Gap (age, that is): I understand things don't always work out perfectly when it comes to the timing of getting pregnant. However, if you can at all "plan" a time to have another baby, I believe the ideal age gap is around 3 years, give or take. Before age 3, children operate in very literal, concrete world. They can't even begin to grasp future events that they can't see. Therefore, trying to explain to a 1 year old, "you are going to have a little sister!" means about as much to them as telling them they will be rich and famous someday. They don't care--all they care about is how they are going to get the Oreos sitting on the counter behind you or when Barney is going to be on. When children turn 3, they enter the world of "fantasy." The primary type of play is make-believe. After age 3, the world of imagination opens up in children as their brains are now able to at least partially, begin to understand future events that have not yet taken place. You are also able to reason with a 3 year old. This comes in VERY handy when talking to them about their new sibling (see #2 below).

2) Talk, talk, talk: Even if your little one is not 3 years old and may not be able to quite grasp the concept of a new family member, it's OK. You can still talk, talk and talk to them about what their world is going to be like in a few months. I'm all about realistic parenting--i don't sugar coat too much. From the very beginning, we explained to Brooke that when the new baby came, Mommy and Daddy would not have quite as much time to spend with her as they do now because babies require lots of attention. We would find certain random moments during the day to casually mention this to her and would always follow it up with, "but Mommy and Daddy still love you very much and we'll still have our special time together." My favorite time to talk to her about the upcoming changes was during story time right before bed. I would say something like, "You know Mommy will have less time to spend with you when the baby comes, but story time is always OUR special time together." At first she just stared at me with a glazed-over look, but after a month or so, it started to sink in and she would ask me questions about the new baby. This was such a great way for us to communicate her feelings about what was about to happen.

3) Teach independence...NOW: Don't wait until the baby comes for you to say, "Mommy needs to feed the baby, go play." Parents who have not taught their kids how to play on their own or taught their kids any self-help skills will have a difficult time when Baby #2 arrives. This is especially true with kids younger than 2 who often have trouble entertaining themselves for long periods of time in general. If your first child hasn't learned to entertain herself, start teaching her immediately. Start with just 3-5 minutes of independent play--without you in the room. Make sure you give her something to do, don't just say, "go play." It could be a coloring page, a puzzle or legos. After they have mastered 5 minutes of independent play, add time in 5 minute increments until they are able to independently play for about 30 minutes. By the way, 30 minutes could take months or even years to master. Depending on her mood, my 3 year old still has trouble with 30 minutes without me in the room if she doesn't have a friend over or something really engaging to do. But it's a goal worth working toward.

If your little one is younger than 2'ish or you are concerned she will get into trouble :-), you could have "playpen time" where you leave baby in her playpen with some toys and allow her to play for a set amount of time WITHOUT you in the room. You can do this with a baby as young as 6 months and is great training when separation anxiety kicks in around 9 months. However, I wouldn't leave a baby who is just initially going through separation anxiety alone for more than about 5-10 minutes--they need to know that you are there for them. And of course, no matter what age, you should always be close by in case they do get into any "trouble." :-)

4) Read: Reading stories about new babies coming into families gives kids that concrete-ness they need to understand what is about to happen. See the links below for my favorite books on this topic.

5) Quality time: Once the baby arrives, be sure you spend good-quality, uninterrupted time with your first child every single day. It could be as little as 10 or 15 minutes, but you need to show your first child that they are still very much a part of your life--the world doesn't revolve around the baby. If you have your new baby on a routine, this becomes fairly easy since you know you will (for the most part) have set nap times.

6) Enlist their help, but don't force it: Make your first child feel like they are going to be a VITAL part of the new baby's arrival. And they are! Just making little comments like, "You are such a good helper! Wow--when the new baby comes, you'll be able to help so much!" See how they react. If they don't respond well, keep trying but never force them participate once the baby comes. Let her ease into her "new life" on her own time.

My favorite books to read with siblings-to-be:

I'm a Big Sister by Joanna Cole

I'm a Big Brother by Joanna Cole

The New Baby by Mister Rogers

The New Baby at Your House by Joanna Cole and Margaret Miller

Because of You - sweetest book to read to both the sibling-to-be AND the new baby! I read this book to Will everyday when he was in the NICU!

1 comment:

  1. I can't comment on this post but your experiences reinforce what I've been hearing from other parents.

    Would love to see a post on "The Dirty Little Secrets" -- mistakes you've made and how you beat yourself up about it (or not) only to find out it's not the end of the world. e.g.: I once forgot to turn the baby monitor on in the early weeks after bringing Jillian home. I felt awful about it and had no idea how long she'd been crying. Matt pointed out that she had probably just started crying ... which of course made me feel better. She has no attachment issues because of that silly mistake. :-) Lame, I know, but let's hear more from others. :-)