December 7, 2010

Reader Question: Preparing a 2-Year-Old for the Birth of the New Baby

Bird writes:
I have a reader question for you and your amazingly helpful readers:

I'm due to give birth in the next 10 days and I will most likely have another c-section. I have a 2.5 year old son already and I'm wondering how much/what I should tell him about mommy being gone for a few days when I give birth. We've been talking about "the baby" for a long time and I think he's aware enough to understand that there is a baby and its in mommy's tummy but I haven't really broached the subject of actually going to the hospital, having the baby and re-couping for a few days. Most likely he will be in the care of a neighbor-friend for an afternoon/evening until my mother gets into town so the birth will be accompanied by a change in his routine and a
sleepover which I'm sure will give him some anxiety as it is. I've never been away from him for longer than a school day so I think my 4 day absence will be hard on him (and probably me as well). Currently, he thinks people go to the hospital to "be fixed" but I don't want him to think that I'm broken, or something bad happened to me from the baby and that's why I have to be at the hospital. Any advice on what we should say/explain? Thanks!

The book I remember being helpful when I was expecting my second baby was Za-za's Baby Brother by Lucy Cousins, which I see is out of print. It's not so much that the book was so awesome; instead, it's that I felt like it did a good job setting up the timeline of a new baby---rather than just focusing on the feelings feelings feelings FEEEEEEELINNNNNGSSSS of the older child. In some books (Berenstain Bears and Little Critter, I am looking in your direction), the mom just vanishes and reappears an hour later with a smiling baby, and it's all about how jealous the sibling is, or how the baby is too little to do anything, or how the baby is so awesome.

But in Za-za's Baby Brother, the mom is pregnant, and then grandma comes to stay with the child while daddy takes mommy to the hospital (we see them leaving in the car); then the child visits tired/happy-looking mommy in the hospital and brings a present for the baby; then mommy comes home and is very tired, and the daddy is very busy (and then there is the usual mention of the older child's feelings of being left out and neglected).

Anyway, I think that's the gist of how I'd present it to a 2-year-old: The baby is growing in mommy's special tummy (or however technical you get with that part), and soon it will be time for the baby to be born. You will go to the neighbor's house (add details here about maybe having a meal, maybe watching a video, maybe playing toys, maybe even sleeping there---whatever) and mommy will go to the hospital where doctors will help the baby be born. Then mommy and the baby will rest at the hospital for a few days while grandma takes care of you, and then they will come home and all of us will live together. Mommy and daddy will be tired and busy at first while we all get used to having the new baby live with us, and it might be weird and loud to have the baby around at first---but then before long it will seem normal to all of us.

You can put in tons more detail if he likes that kind of thing: you can say things like "And then Grandma will give you dinner, and you will go to bed, and when you wake up mommy and the baby STILL won't be home! And then you will [whole day's routine], and then you will go to bed, and when you wake up mommy and the baby STILL won't be home!"---and on and on, for as long as he's interested and you can stand it. I think this is a good way to give toddlers a feeling for the passage of time.

Our firstborn (he was 2 years 2 months when the second child was born) was pretty oblivious, but he enjoyed the endless repetitions of the story of what would happen and when and how. Our hope was that even if he didn't really understand it ahead of time, then when it DID happen he would recognize it from the story. (The funny thing was that he continued to want us to tell him the story, even long after the baby was born.)

More tips and ideas and advice for Bird? How did you prepare an older child for the birth of a baby and the accompanying schedule upheaval?


Amanda said...

I remember being desperately concerned about the mental status of my very clingy two year old when I went to have a c-section for his baby sister. It was so not an issue. He floored me. He had both grandmother's at our house to entertain his every whim and we kept his day schedule the same by bringing him to his regular daycare. He weathered much much better than I did.

I'd just keep telling yourself that it's never as bad as you imagine it to be.

ps - he's now nine and still very attached ;-)

Marie Green said...

I teach a sibling class (as well as Childbirth classes) and one thing we suggest is having a photo of your older child at the hospital. The specific activity that we do is we give the big brother/sister a heart that says "Big Brother"/sister on it and have them color it and decorate it with stickers. Then we ask parents to adhere a photo of the child to the heart (just on top of their coloring is fine) and take it with them to the hospital. When baby is born, tape it in the baby's bassinet. We did this with my 3 year old twins when their sister was born. When they came to meet her, they noticed THEMSELVES on the bassinet almost before they noticed the baby... we told them "Every time your new sister opens her eyes, she sees you! And she knows your her big sisters!" and that made them so proud. It also really helps them feel like they are a BIG PART of the hospital experience.

We also prepared them much in the way that Swistle described, by telling them stories about how it would happen. My favorite book is called "Happy Birth Day" by Robie Harris. It tells the story of the day the OLDEST child was born, but with lots of details and realistic pictures of new babies and hospitals etc. Then there's his 2nd book "Hi New Baby!" about what it's like to get a new sibling.

mama ritchie said...

I agree with Amanda - It's never as bad as you imagine it to be.

That being said, I know that some children (like my first born) like to know the order in which things will happen, and for that, the Usborne First Experiences books have been invaluable. They don't focus on feelings - rather, they give a step-by-step guide regarding what happens during major events in a child's life. This helped us immensely. And it's only $4.99!

Here's a link

Congrats! You all will be so good.

Clare said...

I too was super worried about what my 3.5 yo would think of my being gone, then reappearing with the long-awaited baby brother...who couldn't do anything. And it turns out, everything I worried about was a non-issue, and I got blindsided by some things I wasn't expecting. I was worried about him visiting me and thinking I was ill, but it turns out the free chocolate pudding cups in the maternity ward do a lot to soothe toddler worry. Son#1 associated son#2 with individual-size fruit cups, cereal, and pudding for MONTHS.

I LOVE Marie Green's idea about having your son decorate something for the baby's bassinet. I also think making a little book or chart or something that explains what will happen when you're gone would be reassuring for you son. My tendency is to go overboard on worry and prep, when I think the opposite would actually be more reassuring for my kids. A matter of fact "this is what's going to happen when mama goes to have the baby, and this is what's going to happen when the baby comes home."


jen(melty) said...

I didn't tell any of mine. Just the day to day stuff, and where we were going when we left. I don't know if it's my kids or what I've never had jealousy or rage or acting out because of the new baby going on. They just accepted it. I'm not one to make a huge fuss or do crafts or read special books.

-R- said...

I have not even thought about any of this yet. AARGH. In fact, I am not even sure who is going to stay with our son when I got to the hospital.

This is not about preparing the child, but did your husband stay with you at the hospital overnight, or did he go home to be with the older kid(s)?

Sarah said...

We didn't talk much about it with our first child because she wasn't even quite two when her brother was born. We just talked generally about a baby coming soon, and then told her where I was going when we left. This time, the older two were five and three, so there was lots of talking and planning and helping us to prepare for new baby. I was also on bedrest for a month before the baby came and going to the doctor frequently and such, plus two hospital visits during that time, so they were pretty familiar with baby=lots of doctor/hospital stuff. We did have a book, called What Does Baby Need, that we read a lot to prepare them for life with a newborn, cause we figured that was going to be the real shock, rather than the hospital trip.
When we did talk about having the baby though, we tried to be specific, like, "Mommy will go to the hospital, and then it will be a while and probably you will go to school that day like normal, but someone else will take you. And then that night, or maybe the next day, you will go to the hospital with Daddy or Grandma and meet the new baby. Then Mommy will stay another night, and then everyone will come home..." That kind of thing.
And we made sure to emphasize that the hospital had snacks, yes.

Siera said...

I wish I could contribute, but it would be me asking the same thing sadly. Best of luck.

Swistle said...

-R-: Paul went home to stay with the older one(s).

Joanne said...

My kids have been 2.5 and 16 months when I went to the hospital to have the baby and they were both SO much better than I thought they'd be. We left them at home and my parents and inlaws came to stay with them. My husband also stayed at home over night so their schedule could stay as close to normal as possible. I didn't have my kids come to the hospital because I didn't know how I'd ever get them to leave, but a friend of mine told me to a) try and look as normal as possible (i.e. be sitting in a chair, instead of the bed, maybe no tubes or whatever), and b) do not be holding the new baby when the older sibling comes in. It really did go better than I thought it would - I was so, so worried and sad and then the reality was just great. I hope it goes great for you too and congratulations!

Sabrina said...

There are great ideas here (including the person who said she never made that big a deal out of it. I think I erred on that side, but my first was also only 20 months when the second was born, so minimizing detail wasn't much of a stretch!)

The only idea I have to add is to maybe involve your son in packing for your trip to the hospital, and packing his own bag for when he will stay with neighbors/family. I think that (1) really brings home the message that it's for real, needing pajamas and books and stuffed animals to go somewhere else, and (2) makes it an adventure! Maybe a special book, or particular toy that he chooses that will be safely packed away until his little "vacation." It builds excitement for the event to happen. If you act like it's a treat, he will likely feel that way about it.

Good luck! And enjoy!

Slim said...

We definitely worked the time-line angle, both for the announcement of the sibling-to-be ("and then you'll move to the new preschool, and then it will be Grandfather's birthday, and then I am going to have a baby, and then it will be your birthday") and for the actual planning. We did a hospital tour for siblings so the firstborn could picture Mommy in her fancy bed.
Favorite book: "The new baby at your house," which has photos of the umbilical stump and a nursing mother, just so we could talk about the two most-gripping parts of having a baby around. And by "gripping," I mean "weird and fascinating to children."

Bird said...

Thanks for all your suggestions! Feeling much calmer after reading all the good ideas.

Jessica in Canada said...

All these suggestions are good. My very favourite new books to help prepare older siblings are: "What's Inside?" and "And After That" by Jeanne Ashbe (these are particularly good for really young ones...not too wordy) and "Our New Baby" (Happy Day Book) . They prepared my kids for the things I wanted them prepared for.

Jessica in Canada said...

Sorry I meant "new baby books"; these are not newer books.

Bratling said...

We're in the same boat. My sister-in-law is due in May, and Evie is 2 1/2. She'll be a couple weeks shy of three when the new baby arrives. When they found out, they started the process of preparing her for a new sibling. Her response was, "I no want a baby. I want toys!" (It's one of those things she will probably never live down!) She's been getting used to the idea and now even gives the new baby kisses goodnight. And I'm not sure what they've done. :) I'm just the auntie who takes care of her while her parents are working... I get to spoil her rotten and send her home!

Kristin said...

I think you never know how a child is going to react to this situation. The best you can do is prepare (the books mentioned are a great idea), talk about what is going to happen, and be aware that the child might have difficulties with you being gone.

My son was also 2.5 when I had our daughter. We spent a lot of time talking about what was going to happen (I had a c-section with him and although I was trying for a VBAC with my daughter I was aware that it might not happen and I could have an extended stay in the hospital--turns out VBAC was successful and I was only there 2 nights) and reading lots of books. My parents stayed with him and my husband came home multiple times to see him, and they brought him to see me and the baby twice.

Despite all of this prep (and he LOVES my parents, sees them frequently and has stayed at their home overnight without me before), me being gone that long--3 days--was quite traumatic for him. He didn't show it while it was happening, but when I came home it was obvious.

He went from being a great sleeper to waking up 15 to 20 times every night--to see if mommy was home. This lasted months and was very stressful for all of us. It ended when I let him sleep in our bed, something that hadn't occured to me because he had never slept in our bed before and I already had a newborn in the room with us. I wish that I would have done it right away, because after one week of cosleeping he was fine and able to go back to his own room. I just didn't realize right away that was what he needed.

I'm not telling you all of this to scare you, because more than likely everything will be fine. I guess I just had not anticipated that my son would be so sensitive to my absence. I thought we had done a good job preparing him for it and the changes that were going to happen, and I was unprepared to deal with the how he ended up feeling about the situation. There is so much going on when you bring home a new baby, that an older child can sometimes get a little lost in the shuffle at first.

ANYWAY, this is very long winded and personal and I'm not sure what compelled me to write it! I hope everything goes perfectly for you and have fun with your new baby!