Most mums and dads would agree that nothing could have prepared them for the reality of actually being a parent – sleepless nights, feeding woes, overwhelming feelings of responsibility – these are all incredibly common when a new baby arrives. But what if it’s not a couple’s first baby? Who prepares the other children for the new arrival? And what are the best ways to get them ready for the big changes to the family?
With young children, who are old enough to know what’s happening, but not old enough to have much of a concept of time, it can be a good idea to explain that the baby will come during a particular season or around a time of year they identify with. Parents could tell their children in Summer that the baby will arrive just after Christmas – it gives them a better sense of how long it takes.
Parents often worry about questions from their child about how the baby got into mummy in the first place. It’s best to let the child do the asking rather than the parent doing the talking – you don’t want to get carried away with elaborate lies or awkward explanations. Keep it simple, and keep it age appropriate, but don’t tell lies.
It can be helpful for parents to talk about what it was like when they brought their existing children home for the first time. Parents can explain how babies sleep (or don’t sleep), how they have to have their nappies changed all the time and how they have to be handled gently. Children love talking about themselves, and by telling them how they behaved when they were tiny it can help prepare them for a tiny, screaming, hungry baby who will appear quite suddenly in their lives!
A room, or part of a room, will need to be prepared for a new baby’s arrival, and it can be a great opportunity for children to feel involved if they are allowed to help out. Simple things such as folding blankets or sleep-suits (which will probably have to be done again if you have a very young child) or helping mummy pack a bag for hospital can make a sibling feel important and included.
Parents should also make sure that their children are aware of what’s going to happen to them when the baby is being born – Mummy and Daddy won’t be around for at least a day, so it’s vital to make sure they know that, for instance, Granny will collect them from school or nursery or that when they wake up Auntie Sandra will make them breakfast instead of Daddy.
For fun (or, for real, if they are brave) parents can let children suggest names for the impending arrival. Asking for suggestions can be hilarious, particularly with younger kids…just be prepared for some really wacky answers!