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How to Keep Your Older Child Involved When a New Baby Comes Home

05/08/2015 05:12 EDT | Updated 05/08/2016 05:59 EDT
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My husband and I have three young sons now, age four, two and four months. With each pregnancy we worried, how would the older one(s) react to bringing home another creature. Would there be jealousy, sibling rivalry, intense affection or indifference? I was most nervous when I brought home my second son. Dylan was 21 months old and he'd been the centre of our universe. He had gotten all the attention and praise. How, I wondered, would he react when we brought home the competition?

Many parents worry about how the new baby will change the family dynamic that everyone is used to. With Kate Middleton's recent delivery of the royal baby girl, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, I am reminded of these changing dynamics that so many families worry about and struggle with.

In our own family, Dylan was actually awesome about it. He loved and cherished his baby brother from the moment he met him. Ryan, too, was super loving and gentle when we brought home Jason, our four month old. These are some things we did before and during those first few weeks that I think helped make that transition a success.

Before baby arrives

• Talk to your child about the new baby well before your due date. You don't want to start too early, as young children may not understand why it is taking so long. But I wouldn't wait till a week before either. Depending on the age, consider a few months, when mom's belly is starting to grow and they may start to wonder what's happening anyway.

• Consider involving your older child in your preparations. We invited the older boys to help design the baby's nursery. That big brother or big sister to-be will feel that it is a special place for him or her as well.

• We called the new baby, his baby. We wanted Dylan and Ryan to feel a strong bond to their little brother. We also encouraged their fraternal instincts to help them feel involved in the baby's care when he came home.

• Spend as much quality time as possible with your toddler before your newborn takes up residence. We made a special effort to spend quiet, uninterrupted time with the older boys. The trick is undivided attention. Put down the phone and look only at your child!

• Look through those old baby pictures with your older child. It's a great reminder that he or she was once a baby too.

After delivery

• If your older child/children visit the hospital, act as thought they made your day (maybe they did!). The excitement and attention we showed Dylan when he visited after Ryan was born helped set the stage for the next few months.

• When friends and family stop by with presents for your newborn, ask them to bring pictures and books. That way your older child won't feel left out. Keep some extra things for the older kids just in case.

• Give them responsibility! We ask the older boys to grab diapers and wipes or a new onesie whenever we can. This involvement strengthens the sibling bond and helps a big brother or sister feel valued.

• Prompt your older child to make choices. Our older kids help pick out outfits and food options for the baby. Monitored control over even the smallest decisions help him to feel important and needed.

• Involve your older child in feeding the baby. When it was time to breastfeed, I do not hide from Dylan and Ryan, but choose instead to nurse in the family room with my older sons playing nearby.

• Be enthusiastic when you see your older child. Greet him or her with a huge hug and a smile. They will feel special.

• Talk to your toddler about their day and their feelings. They may have more insight into the new baby than you know.

• Sometimes put your toddler first. That dirty diaper can usually wait a few minutes if your toddler wants to talk or needs your help.

• Look at your child when he or she speaks. Eye to eye. In our crazy day we don't often stop, really stop, to listen.

• Remind your toddler of fun times you had before the baby. My older son and I still talk about going to the zoo the week before I delivered. three years later, he still remembers the monkeys.

• And remember that this precious time will fly by. So try to savour every delicious second. Soon you'll have two or more toddlers!

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