Use some of these best practices to introduce baby to their new brothers and sisters

Children over age 3 usually welcome a new baby into the home, either with open arms or as a novelty, but it is not unusual for younger children to be upset for a while. Here’s how to introduce your newest addition to siblings:

Make friends before birth

Play show and tell. Depending on their level of understanding, tell your children about the new sibling early in your pregnancy. Show pictures of baby in mommy’s uterus. Out of sight is out of mind to young children, so the unborn baby doesn’t threaten their domain, though even a 2-year-old may sense that mommy is preoccupied with what’s beneath the belly. Let them pat the baby bump, talk to the baby and feel the baby kick.

Replay your children’s babyhoods

Sit down with your children and page through their baby picture albums. Show them what they looked like right after birth, coming home from the hospital, nursing, having their diapers changed and so on. By replaying their own baby events, they will be prepared for the new sibling.

Include children in the celebration

Besides being with mom and the new sibling after the birth (if the children were not at the birth), ask for their help in planning a “birthday party” where they get to pick the cake and decorations and plan special presents for the new arrival.

Include a gift for the older siblings

Savvy visitors who themselves have survived sibling rivalry can bring along a gift for older children when visiting the new baby. Keep a few small gifts in reserve for your young children when friends lavish presents and attention on the new baby. Let them be the ones to unwrap the baby gifts and test the rattles.

Time-share with the new sibling

Along with the uncertainty of finding where they fit into the new scheme of things, what bothers children most is sharing you with the new sibling. Since the concept of sharing is foreign to children under 3, and since mom is their most important “possession,” it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to sell children on the concept of “time shares” with mother. You can share the time you spend caring for the baby with your children by wearing your infant in a carrier. That gives you two free hands to play a game with your older children. While feeding baby, read a book to the sibling or just have cuddle time. Their need for quality time is one of the reasons why I’m a big believer in new mothers giving themselves permission to neglect housework and chores in favor of time with baby and older children.

Try playtime for two

As baby gets a bit older, encourage children to entertain the baby. Making faces and funny noises is something 3- or 4-year-olds excel at and babies love. Big, toothless grins can be an incredible ego-booster — “Hey, he likes me.”

Make the sibling feel important

Give your children a job in the family organization. To pull children out of the “I want to be a baby” blues, play up their importance to you, personally and practically. Tell them you need their help. Give them a job title. Make it fun: “You can be mommy’s helper. Get the diaper, please.” “Bring the clothes for Mama.” “Please grab those toys.” Let them change diapers, dress baby and bathe baby (all under supervision, of course). Praise the help they give you. When baby has a “boo-boo,” let “Dr. James,” the sibling, be the compassionate bandage-placer.

As you introduce the new baby into your family, you will not only help your older children realize that having a baby brother or sister is fun but also teach them about the joy of caring for another person.

Here’s how one mother handled her 4-year-old’s turnabout in personality after the birth of their second child:

Soon after Benjamin was born, Amy seemed to go through a mid-childhood crisis. She reverted to bed-wetting and throwing temper tantrums. A previously happy child, Amy became sad. She talked back, was defiant, began waking at night and made herself a general nuisance. I gave her a job as “mother’s assistant,” and even paid her for her help. After a few weeks, Amy not only became more pleasant to live with, she even learned some mothering skills.

Bill Sears, M.D., is a father of eight and the author of 42 books on family health,including The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood. A practicing pediatrician for over 40 years, he is an Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. Dr. Sears is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and a fellow of the Royal College of Pediatricians (RCP).