As adoring as a big sibling may be, a baby isn't always safe with one who's still very young himself. Kids under 3 don't understand that infants need special care, says Karen Gouze, director of training in psychology at Children's Memorial Hospital, in Chicago. A young child eager to hold his new sister doesn't know to support her head, for example, or he may hug her too tightly. A 2-year-old who's jealous of the time Mom and Dad spend with her little brother may try to hit, push, or bite him.
To keep the newest member of the family safe:
Show and Tell
Use a baby doll to educate your child about proper newborn care. Show him where to put his hands when holding it, and how to bathe it, feed it, and change a diaper. Even though you won't be delegating these tasks to him anytime soon, he'll pick up on your tender touch. Or, if you have a friend with a newborn, see whether she'd be willing to demonstrate baby handling on her child.
Get a Jump on Jealousy
Even if it's just 15 minutes, spend some one-on-one time with your toddler every day. Have a tea party while the baby sleeps, or read her a story while you're breastfeeding. She'll be less upset at her little sibling for grabbing your attention.
Be a Third Party
"Never leave a two- or three-year-old alone with an infant," says Flaura Winston, M.D., pediatrician and director of TraumaLink at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. In less time than it takes for you to go to the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee, a youngster can pull over a bassinet, throw a toy at the baby, or sit on him.
Provide plenty of opportunities for your older child to observe the baby so that she's not tempted to climb up on the changing table or the crib for a peek. When you're able to supervise, place the baby on a blanket on the floor, or set up a stepstool next to the bassinet.
Become Her Main Squeeze
To teach gentle hugging, give your toddler an appropriate embrace, then let her try one on you. Have her do it too hard once or twice so she can gauge her strength, and invite her to practice "just right" hugs on you anytime.