The joy you probably feel at discovering that you are pregnant again may be edged with guilt when you think how the new arrival may affect your existing child. Your little emperor will cease to be your main concern – you will soon have to share yourself between two children. So how do you prepare your older child for the arrival of a new little person that will crave your undivided attention, steal his toys and make more noise than a cats’ chorus?
Tell it like it is (sort of…)
It’s a good idea to tell your older child relatively early on. Explain how mummy is going to have a baby and what a wonderful event it will be for the whole family. Stress all the positive points, such as how it will be much more fun to have a little brother or sister, how they will be able to go to school together and become great friends.
There are several helpful picture books available (libraries often carry a good selection) that explain in gentle terms the upheaval that is going to hit home. So if you start early, you have time to read through a few of these with a view to preparing your child for the imminent homing missile.
Share the pregnancy magic
It's a good idea to involve your child with the physical changes your body is undergoing. Let him feel your tummy and talk to the baby. See if you can take him along to the odd antenatal appointment so that he can see a scan or listen to the baby’s heart. Don’t let him forget what a wonderful thing it is to have a new brother or sister: during my second pregnancy I would often talk about this with my daughter. As an only child, it was easy for me to convey to her how lucky she was going to be, how I yearned for a brother or sister and how I wished that that I could swap places with her and have a sibling.
During your pregnancy you may experience a sort of grieving process for the special time that will be lost with the older child. I was whipped up into a nostalgic frenzy before the birth of my second child, and fretted about losing our ‘special time’ together. I felt that in some way I was betraying my daughter (those pesky hormones again) and that she would never forgive me (she did forgive me - about a year later).
Dealing with the actual event
Of course, nothing can prepare your child fully enough for the actual arrival and it's natural for your child to feel some resentment towards the new baby, but you can take steps to minimise the impact. Most important is to make sure that you take the time to organise care of your older child for the birth well before the anticipated labour. If at all possible arrange care with close relatives or friends who will make him feel special when you are not there. As there's no way of knowing when you'll go into labour you'll need several options: there's nothing worse than to go into labour suddenly and have to dump your child on an unsuspecting neighbour.
See your older child as soon as you can after the birth and make a big fuss of him (more than of the baby). Whatever you do, don’t rave on ceaselessly to your older child about the baby, it may make him feel that he is being pushed out. When in doubt, always try to put the focus on the older child – tell him that the new baby is very lucky to have him as a brother.
You can also prepare your visitors to help make the experience easier on the older child. A common mistake visitors make is to virtually blank the older child who would previously have grabbed all their attention, and to come laden with baby gifts but forgetting the older child. If you feel you can ask relatives and friends to bring something small for your older child too, so much the better. If not, ask them to give you baby gifts privately so that your child is spared feeling hurt and left out.
Back to daily life
It's likely that a young child will start to show signs of regressive behaviour, such as insisting on wearing nappies and wanting to breastfeed -or even begin speaking like a baby. Be reassured that this is just a phase he will eventually snap out of. You can help matters by reading him a special story while you are breastfeeding the baby.
An older child may also choose to behave in an uncooperative fashion in a bid to gain more attention. Again, giving him some 'special time' may help.
Siblings will be siblings
Ultimately, you cannot escape sibling rivalry. However much your older child decides he loves the new baby, there will be times when he wants to throttle it – especially when it finally dawns on him that the baby is a permanent fixture. Keep an eye on the older child if he seems resentful – he may harm the baby unintentionally. A few years ago my mother’s friend heard her toddler screaming “She just won’t go!” and found him trying to flush his baby sister down the toilet. That’s pretty extreme behaviour and I don’t want to be alarmist, but it can happen.
Finally, it’s worth accepting from the start that siblings are likely to compete for their parents’ attention and will probably whine about being short-changed at some point: it’s human nature. Just make time for the older child whenever you can – the baby won’t remember that you left him with a friend to take his sister to the pictures, but the older child will.