Whether this is your second child or fifth, preparing your children for a new baby can be difficult. When and how you tell them can make a world of difference in their reactions. Naturally, you'd like your kids to view this addition in a positive light, so you carefully consider the conversation you'll have with them. In this section, we explore choosing the right time, deciding how much information to impart, and reassuring your children of their own importance to the family.
When to Tell Them
Ideally, you'd talk to your child about a new baby only a short time before your due date, because with her undeveloped concept of time, six months or more is too long to wait. However, you don't want the child to hear the news from someone else, so you'll probably share it about the time you're telling everyone. For a young child, try to tie the coming birth to something other than a specific date: "about the time of your own birthday" or "when the leaves on the trees are getting green." An older child who can handle the time lag can be told earlier, and a teenager can be told very soon after you know for sure yourself. Being first to know, even before Grandma, gives this older child the adult status that builds self-esteem. Just don't tell a child of any age until you're ready for the whole world to know. That kind of secret is impossible to keep.
What to Tell Them
The ages of your children also determine to a large extent how you answer the questions about reproduction that will inevitably follow your announcement. It's important to remember to give a child only the amount of information she actually asks for and can handle. A toddler, for example, probably wants only to know and can take in no more than "the baby is growing in a special place inside Mommy and will come out when it's big enough." A bright preschooler or a school-age child is likely to insist on knowing all the details of the baby's life "in there." If you have a preteen or a teenager, your pregnancy gives you a golden opportunity to pass on something of your value system as you candidly discuss human sexuality, reproduction, and family life.
With children of any age, use the correct terminology for body parts and functions. Any shyness or embarrassment you may feel about speaking frankly wears off with repetition, and you will do your child a favor because she won't have to relearn the words. You may find it helpful to draw upon the vast number of excellent books available for parents and children on the subject of reproduction (and, for little kids, about what it's like to have a baby brother or baby sister), many of which are designed to be read together. Your librarian or bookstore clerk can lead you to the best of what's available. Be willing to answer questions whenever they're asked. With young children, don't be surprised if you must repeat your answers several times.
How the Baby Will Affect Them
Your children's questions won't all be about where babies come from. Children are naturally self-centered, and yours will want to know how this baby will affect their lives. Once a young child accepts the fact a real baby will definitely join the family as another child for Mommy and Daddy to love, she will begin to worry about being deposed, supplanted in your affections and perhaps even in your home. The more imaginative the child, the more horrible may be the fears. You can help ease your child's apprehensions by talking about the baby in terms of the child -- saying, "You will be a big sister," instead of "The baby will love you," for example. And when you refer to the baby, speaking of the baby as "ours," not "mine," also helps.
If a new baby means the child will move to a big bed or another bedroom, make the change well ahead of time so your older child interprets it as growing up, not being pushed out. Don't try to break your child of the pacifier habit just before the baby is due, and don't send her off to nursery school just then. Do be more generous than ever with your hugs and kisses and the special time you spend with your child each day. Bedtime is a wonderful time for a leisurely, loving cuddle that reassures your child of your love.
Once their questions have been answered, older kids may disappoint you a little in their reactions to the coming baby. School, outside activities, and friends keep them busy and make them independent, and they don't expect a baby to make much difference in their lives. You may find preteens or teenagers showing signs of embarrassment about your pregnancy; kids this age don't always like to have the results of their "old" parents' continuing sexuality displayed for all the world to see. You may be able to make them feel better by pointing out examples of other teens with infant siblings among friends and relatives. Be careful not to turn them off by telling them how much help they will be able to give you in caring for the baby.
Kids of any age may enjoy helping you go through the baby clothes ("Did I really wear that?"), set up the bassinet, and arrange the articles on the changing table. If a child really wants to -- and only if this is the case -- you might consider taking him or her to the doctor with you a time or two to hear the baby's heartbeat. And if you can occasionally bring a baby into the house as a guest or babysitting charge, both you and your child can get an idea of what to expect when your own baby arrives.
Preparing your children for new addition to the family will help when the time comes to bring baby home. Read on to the next section for advice on dealing with siblings when the big day finally arrives.
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