I’ve learned from experience that helping your child adjust to a new baby is not a one-time occurrence. Rather, it’s a process that happens continuously throughout your pregnancy and for the days, weeks, and months after the baby shows up.
So there’s no single thing you can do—no magic bullet, if you will—to ease the transition to this new way of life for your older child.
Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize that the first time your older child and baby meet is a key moment, and for many families this happens in the hospital after mom delivers. How you handle this important experience sets the tone for your older child. If you do it right, it can really help make the adjustment process a positive one.
So how do you do it right? Here are three specific things you should do in the hospital to help your child adjust to a new baby.
Helping Your Child Adjust to a New Baby: 3 Things To Do Before Leaving the Hospital
1. Before your older child arrives at your hospital room, pass the baby to someone else.
This suggestion originally came to me from an expert in early childhood development, and it’s a golden one.
Remember that your older child hasn’t seen you since you rushed off to the hospital. He or she misses Mommy and needs a hug and a kiss from you. So imagine how emotionally difficult it will be for him or her to charge into the room ready for some mama snuggles, only to see that your arms are already full with the new arrival.
Talk about feeling displaced.
So before your older child arrives, hand the baby to Dad or put him/her in the bassinet. That way your loving arms will be free to go straight to your older child and offer an abundance of hugging and kissing—and some much-needed reassurance that there will always be plenty of snuggles to go around.
2. Introduce your baby to your older child, instead of the other way around.
My first inclination was to introduce my older child to my baby, saying something like, “Meet your new baby sister! Look at how cute she is!”
But then I realized that switching it around could make a big difference in how he felt.
So instead I said to my baby, “Meet your big brother! He will be helping us take care of you, and he’ll be teaching you all sorts of wonderful things. You’re so lucky to have such a wonderful big brother!”
Sure, it’s really just a matter of semantics, but it can make a big difference for your child to hear you speaking adoringly about him/her to the new baby. With all the attention the baby is undoubtedly getting, it’s a welcome reminder that your older child is still a rock star in your eyes.
3. Exchange sibling gifts.
The new baby is probably going to be showered with gifts and presents, so it’s nice for the older child to get a little something too. Make it even better by having it come from the new baby right in the hospital. (Obviously this works best with younger children who won’t question the baby’s ability to give a present just yet!)
We had our baby girl give our 2-year-old this new book and a figurine of one of his favorite characters. In exchange, we had our toddler choose one of his old books that he doesn’t read much anymore to wrap and bring along to the hospital to give to his new sister.
It was so nice for my son to not only bring a gift for the new baby, but also to receive one from her in return.