Every kid is excited about a new baby . . . until that baby shows up and mom and dad start paying attention to her, right? Growing up as a middle child it was never just me. I never had my parents all to myself, or anything all to myself for that matter. I guess that's why middle children are the most amazing, loving, peacemaking human beings (wink, wink) right? Kidding, of course . . . kind-of.
Welcoming a new baby into the family can be an interesting adjustment for a child who was previously the baby of the family. My experience was a horrifying one. Let me explain: Esther was two and a half when Ellie came into the world. She was excited for about 3 minutes after Ellie was born. Sibling rivalry starts before your kids even know how to say, rivalry. Ellie was all of a week old when I had her laying on my bed one afternoon. Someone rang the doorbell and I went down to answer it. 2 minutes into being gone I heard Ellie screaming at the top of her tiny lungs. I ran back upstairs to find Ellie bleeding out of her mouth as Esther sheepishly looked at me like she had no idea what had happened. Upon further inspection I found that Esther had crawled up on to the bed, stuck her hand into Ellie's mouth and scraped her gums until they bled. I was beside myself, I had no idea how to respond; my newborn was in shock and pain, and ironically so was my toddler.
There are some things that you can do to prepare the soon-to-be older brother or sister for this new chapter. Every child will be different when it comes to their reactions. The age of the older sibling is also something to take into account. If the child is 11, you won't need to point to your belly and say, "there's a baby in mommy's belly." I'm hoping, at that point, they get it. But if this is a new concept to your toddler, let me pass along some lessons that I have learned.
- Give Them All the Info: Bring them to an ultra-sound, let them hear the heartbeat of the baby. Explain that this is their little brother or sister. Then tell them when he or she will be here. Instead of using time (i.e. 9 months) give them a familiar reference point, she'll be here right after Christmas or he'll be here right before summertime.
- Use Bribes: Okay, that sounds bad. But, you'll see what I mean. Have the "new baby" start giving their older sibling gifts before they are born. Buy the older sibling smaller presents to reinforce the idea that this new baby is a good and exciting thing. Then when the baby is born, bring one last present to the hospital. Upon meeting their new sibling, give the older sibling that one last gift.
- Special Date Days. Set aside time that you and your toddler can have dates, just the two of you. Make these a priority and make it consistent. When the new older brother or sister is struggling to give up the attention, reference the date day that is coming up. Let them know you still have kept them as a priority.