You've dreamed of the special bond your family will feel when you bring home your new baby. Now that the moment's here, though, the reality doesn't quite fit your fantasies. Your little one wants nothing to do with the baby, or, worse, asks you to take the baby back to the hospital. Bringing home a new baby is a big transition for everyone. Your little one may have toileting accidents, revert to babyish behavior or have meltdowns over minor things. Be extra patient with yourself and your child during this time. Soon, you'll all adjust to life with your new baby.
Try to understand the situation from your child's perspective, which can increase your patience and empathy, notes Gigi Schweikert, New York City–based early-childhood development expert, former director of the United Nations Early Childhood Program and author of I'm a Good Mother: Affirmations for the Not-So-Perfect Mom.
"Imagine how you would feel," she says, "if your spouse brought home a new wife or husband with the explanation, 'I love you so much. You have made such a positive difference in my life that I wanted another one like you.'" In this case, she notes, you'd probably feel acutely hurt, anxious and displaced—and young children often have similar feelings when a new baby arrives. You may even wonder if you'll have enough love to go around. In time, though, everyone will adjust, and your little one will come to see the new baby as a welcome addition to the family.
The most important work in preparing a young sibling for a new baby starts long before the baby arrives, notes Helen Moon, certified nursery nurse, certified lactation expert and author of Cherish the First Six Weeks. Talk with your child every day about the coming baby. Take your child with you to doctor's appointments and talk about why your tummy is growing. Get your little one a doll, and show her how to bathe, feed and care for it. Explain that a new baby can't play or do things for herself. She'll need lots of help from Mmm and dad.
Additionally, make any changes in your child's routine or environment long before baby arrives. "If you are planning to move your young child to a new bedroom or putting him a new bed, do so well before the baby arrives," says Moon, "so your older child doesn’t feel displaced by the baby. This also goes for any other major changes, like potty training, starting at a new preschool, or child care."
A new baby can wreak havoc on your routines and schedules, but try to keep some consistency for your toddler's sake. If your little one usually snuggles with you in the morning while sipping her milk, try to continue that ritual. Maintain nap time and meal time routines even if you have to simplify for a while. A few dinners of chicken nuggets, mac and cheese or even cold cereal won't hurt your child, but overall, predictability and consistency are important.
Continue to follow your bedtime routine, as much as possible. "If you always read a story before your little one went to bed try to continue to do that," says Moon. "Let Dad hold the baby while you do this, so your child knows you are still there just for him."
One of the most challenging aspects of bringing home a new baby is finding time for all your children. You may be feeling overwhelmed or guilty when you can't do it all. This phase doesn't last forever, though, and before long you'll develop new routines. In the meantime, your little one may struggle with feelings of being left out or ignored. Find time when baby's napping to play some simple games, read a story or simply talk. Go for daily walks together or snuggle on the bed at nap time. These simple activities reassure your child that she's still important to you.
In addition to giving your child some extra attention, plan outings for your little one with Dad, Grandma or even a friend, suggests Moon. You probably won't be up for a trip to the zoo anytime soon, but special outings offer a fun diversion for your child. These outings also give you a chance to rest and bond with your new baby.
Your little one is probably going to act out. He may cry more easily, revert to baby-like behavior or even threaten to hurt the new baby. All these common behaviors eventually subside in the next two or three months. In the meantime, be patient and kind. Set consistent, reasonable limits and talk with your child when he disobeys. Don't leave the new baby alone with an unhappy toddler for safety reasons.
Most importantly, empathize with your child, and encourage communication. "Listen to how your child feels about the baby and the changes in your family," says Moon. "If he expresses negative feelings, acknowledge them. Help your child put his feelings into words. Never deny or discount your child’s feelings."
For example, if your child's having a temper tantrum, you might say, "You seem sad and angry. Having a new baby in the house is a big change, isn't it." Your little one will probably emphatically agree. Don't try to talk her out of her feelings with comments such as, "Oh, you don't mean that. You love your little brother."