Adam never was really into sharing things. When his cousins would visit, his way of greeting them was to explain what was his, followed by “Don’t Touch!” Inevitably it would lead to a showdown in which I’d have to pry a toy he hasn’t even looked at since he was an infant from his arms, while apologizing for his howls of anger.
So while I was thrilled when I found out I was pregnant again, I was apprehensive about how to break the news to Adam. He couldn’t share an old stuffed bear—how would he feel about sharing his parents (or in his eyes, the bearers of affection, food, and attention)?
I knew that the excitement and preparation that comes with setting up a nursery and getting all the necessary things in place for a newborn would take up a lot of time, and he might feel jilted or neglected as a result. Based on what I saw online, children experiencing sibling rivalry could do anything from regress in behaviors, like forget that he was perfectly capable of using a toilet, to acting out in aggressive ways. I didn’t want to set the poor unborn kid up for serious retribution when he/she arrived in the world!
The first thing I did was change how I talked about the baby. I tried to involve Adam by saying “our baby” or “your new sister or brother” so that he felt a sense of belonging. I read that it would help him develop a sense of responsibility; I just hoped that it could help him feel included.
However, I knew that alone would not be enough to convince him that baby wasn’t a usurper. Here are a few more things that I did that seemed to help Adam adjust to arrival of the new baby:
During the pregnancy, we took him to the doctor and let him use the stethoscope to listen to the baby’s heartbeat. We let him pick out some décor items for the nursery and we set up a particular shelf as the “big brother” shelf with a picture of him so that he could “always be watching over his little sister.” When we read his favorite book we would discuss how amazing it would be to read it to the new baby and how it would mean so much if he could read it to her.
We emphasized how exciting and what a big responsibility it was to be a big brother, and even got a few books to help prepare him for the new routines that would come with a newborn.
We wanted him to understand that a baby requires a lot of care and time, but that did not mean we wouldn’t have time for him as well, so we talked a lot about that.
After the birth, my husband and I took turns setting aside special time for just Adam. While one of us watched the baby, the other one would take him on a special trip, either something new, or something we used to always do together that was just “us” time. And of course, he still got his special bedtime story time.
We asked him if he wanted the “honor” of helping out with his new little sister, and he surprised us by saying yes. Now we let him hold her for short periods of time, help us out with bath time, and with feeding her. He’s turned out to be quite the little helper!
We also made it a point to ask friends and family to spend a little extra one-on-one time with Adam even though they were visiting Sophie. If they were staying in town for a while, we would suggest an outing for ice cream or maybe the park.
So while there was a lot of commotion happening because of the newborn baby, Adam felt like a rockstar too and definitely got a share of attention.
I don’t know which thing helped the most. All I know is that Adam is way more calm and involved than he probably would’ve been without this extra effort. And I realize that they will eventually fight as all siblings do. But in the meantime, every time he helps put on her bib or brings her binkie when she’s crying instead of throwing a tantrum is a win I will take.
Marcela De Vivo is a proud mom and freelance writer in the Los Angeles area. She has written on everything from health & wellness, marketing, real estate and technology. She and her husband own Baby Authority.