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After the baby is born
by Dr. Susan Bartell

  • Speak to your child on the phone or in person as soon as possible after the baby is born.
  • Have a gift from the baby for your older child when she comes to the hospital to see you and the baby.
  • Have the baby in the bassinet when your older child comes to the hospital so he doesn't have to compete with the baby in giving mom hugs and kisses.
  • Allow your child as much time as she needs to warm up to the baby-it may take hours, days or even weeks.
  • Encourage your child to express both positive and negative feelings towards the baby and don't make her feel guilty about the negative ones. It's okay (even healthy) to feel and talk about angry, hurt or confused feelings.
  • Give your older child as much positive attention as possible. This is easy during the early months when the baby isn't too demanding. It becomes more difficult as the baby gets older and becomes more engaging (e.g. smiling, cooing, crawling etc.) This is the time to make the extra effort with your older child.
  • Don't expect your child to start or achieve new milestones in the period following the birth (e.g. toileting, moving to a new bed), although some children are able to continue as usual.
  • After a new baby is born, some older siblings may regress with milestones they have already achieved (toileting accidents, waking up at night, difficulty separating from you, thumb sucking, wanting a bottle etc.) This is typical and usually dissipates after the baby has been around a while.
  • Emphasize all the "grown-up" things your older child can do that the baby can't do. Pay particular attention to the ones that are most appealing to him (e.g. eating cookies, watching TV, playing at the playground) Never leave a toddler alone with a new baby (even if she seems to like the baby.) Don't leave an older child either until you are absolutely sure he doesn't harbor any resentful feelings about the baby's arrival. A young child will typically have difficulty expressing herself verbally and may resort to hurting the baby. She will feel very guilty after doing it.
  • Furthermore, if she sees that you are angry with her, it will cause her to resent the baby even more. This can easily be avoided by supervising all interactions between the two children and by taking your older child with you when you need to leave the room.
  • Have some inexpensive gifts on hand to give your child when the baby has been given "too many presents."
  • Praise your older child for helping you with the baby (bringing diapers, holding the bottle etc.). He can also "help" by showing picture books to the baby. But it's important not to make a child feel guilty for not participating.
  • Look for loving moments, such as when your older child kisses or hugs the baby. Tell him how much the baby loves his hugs and kisses. Encourage such positive interactions by keeping a camera handy and catching them on film. Be sure to tell your older child often how much the baby loves her, smiles for her, and cries when she leaves. Tell her that the baby thinks she's a wonderful big sister. This may sound silly to you because you know that a newborn is not capable of such complex reactions. But a young child (and even an older one) will believe it and it will foster love from the older child towards the younger one. When the baby is old enough to really respond to an older sibling, it will hopefully be with the same warmth she has been receiving.

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Before the baby is born
by Dr. Susan Bartell

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