What's that in the stork's beak? A brand-new bundle of joy? Yes, but also a mixed bag of emotions for your firstborn. “Toddlers tend to experience sadness and frustration at the arrival of a sibling, but they don't yet have the language to express it,” explains Stephanie Smith, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Erie, CO. Bigger kids may be troubled by the changes and extra time spent with the baby, so here's how to smooth the transition:
Don't share too soon. Talking far in advance about a birth or adoption means your toddler may forget most of what you've explained. Start to break the news a month or two before the big day, and then ask for her help. Two- and 3-year-olds can place stuffed animals in a basket, clear a shelf for toys, or empty a drawer for new clothes.
Rethink that shower. Suggest that well-wishers give books to #1 for her to read to the new baby at the shower for #2 (you probably have all the gear you need anyway). Or shop with your older tot for a special baby gift and then wrap it up together.
Role-play the day. Keep #1 busy (and interested) by suggesting she feed, diaper, and rock her own “baby” alongside you. Hand over an empty bottle so she's supplied, and then when the babe is squawking to be fed, you can both sit down and work together.
Coddle your big girl. If she wants to taste the baby's formula or breast milk, it's fine to let her (a little regression is normal when becoming an older sibling). Extra attention and time alone with you should help ease her anxiety when baby bro moves in.
Prep ahead. If she wants to, let her pitch in (it may help her get used to the idea of a new sib). Easy tasks for 5- and 6-year-olds include stacking diapers, folding baby outfits, and clearing shelves for new toys and books. Tweens can help you repaint an old dresser or put together a new swing or play yard.
Get a gift. Suggest that your big girl help you pick out and wrap a special present for the baby—this small act gets her involved in the celebration. “But don't insist that she shop with you if she's not keen to participate. Forcing it will just breed resentment,” says Stephanie Smith, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Erie, CO.
Make time for #1. Spending regular moments alone with your older child while Dad or a grandparent takes the baby will help her adjust. Try making a date for a weekly outing—just the two of you.
Talk up the fun. Sure, there's lots of crying now, but remind her of what she'll do with her sib down the road. She'll have a built-in playmate and sleep-over buddy, and maybe even a “job” (when she's older) helping to watch her little bro.