All children face the birth of a new member of the family with mixed emotions, but it's particularly hard for a toddler to share you with a new baby. To ease your child's transition to siblinghood:
1. Celebrate his new status. Have an "I'm the Big Brother" (or "Big Sister") T-shirt made for an older sibling to show off for friends and relatives. "You need to make a big deal about an older child's special role so he won't feel upstaged by the newcomer," says Deborah Parks, RN, DSN, of the University of Texas Medical School.
2. Enlist his help. Parks adds a new twist to the popular tactic of coming home from the hospital bearing a gift for your older child. "Fill a purse or backpack with baby wipes and a rattle as well as a few big-kid gifts," she suggests. Then, after you ask "Mom's little helper" to cheer up a fussy baby with a toy or bring you a wipe during a diaper change, tell him that you and "our baby" couldn't get along without him.
3. Bring out the baby pictures. Reminding an older child that he, too, was cuddled and cared for can help put the attention lavished on a newborn in perspective, says child and family therapist Meri Wallace, MSW, director of the Heights Center for Adult and Child Development in Brooklyn and author of Birth Order Blues (Henry Holt & Co., 1999). You might say, "Now that you're bigger, you can feed [or dress] yourself. But when you were a baby we did everything for you, just like we're doing for your little sister."
4. Fuss over your firstborn. Play a game or watch a favorite video together while the baby sleeps. One-on-one time is key to defusing resentment so "make sure you and your partner give your firstborn special attention every day," says Wallace.
5. Indulge babyish behavior. It's common for toddlers to forget their potty training or beg for a bottle after a new baby joins the family, says Wallace. Make light of regressive behavior ("accidents happen to all of us") and occasionally indulge the desire for a bottle. Emphasize an older child's advanced abilities ("Our baby needs a bottle, but you can drink juice from a cup, just like I do") and the advantages of age ("You can stay up and look at a book; the baby has to go to bed").
6. Acknowledge feelings. Understanding and addressing a child's feelings about sharing a parent can help prevent pinching, poking, stranglehold hugs and other aggressive behavior, says Wallace. If your preschooler demands that you send the baby back, you might say, "It's hard for you that we have a new baby, isn't it? Whenever you feel upset, come to me and I'll give you a big hug."