How do I prepare my preschooler for the arrival of a new baby?

DEAR DOCTOR K:

I’m expecting my second baby in a few months. Everyone’s excited except my 2-year-old son. What can I do to help my son look forward to the new arrival?

DEAR READER:

Your son has always gotten all the attention — and he probably assumed that he always would. I was the oldest child. My parents told me (many years later) that I wasn’t real excited that a new brother or sister was on the way. I find that hard to believe, of course.

It’s no wonder that your son is not enthusiastic about a noisy, demanding baby that may steal the spotlight. He knows he’ll have competition for your attention and affections. He may even worry you’re thinking that the new model might replace the old model — him.

The way you handle the pregnancy and first months of the new baby’s life can do much to reassure your son that he isn’t being replaced. Begin to prepare him now. The most important thing you can do is talk about the new baby, early and often. Get him used to babies by visiting a friend who has a baby. Let him know that, at first, the new baby may not recognize him, or want to play with him. But that when the baby gets a little older, he’ll have a wonderful playmate.

Make any major changes to your son’s life now. For example, if it hasn’t already happened, start potty training well before the baby is due. Done early, these changes will be your son’s accomplishments. Done too close to the baby’s arrival, and these changes may be interpreted as the baby pushing him out of his normal routine.

Involve your son in preparations. Ask his opinion about the names you’re considering, or have him choose the outfit the baby will wear home from the hospital.

Once the new baby arrives, include your son in the baby’s homecoming. Encourage him to talk to and touch the newborn.

Ask for your son’s help and involve him in the baby’s care. Having responsibilities can help your son feel important. Ask him to get a diaper for you or pick out clothes.

A baby demands a lot of attention, but don’t allow your older child to feel neglected. Schedule special time with him.

Expect — and indulge — some babyish behavior. After a newborn arrives, it’s not uncommon for children to return to thumb-sucking, or for a toilet-trained child to have accidents. Don’t scold your son for these regressions. They’re likely to be short-lived.

Allow your son to express negative emotions toward the baby. Explain that it’s OK to feel less than thrilled about the baby all the time.

Finally, don’t ever miss an opportunity to praise your child. Reward efforts to be helpful, and acknowledge any positive things he says about the baby.

Once my baby sister started to crawl, I became her guide and protector. I kept her from climbing the staircase, for example. Boy, were my parents lucky that she had an older brother to keep her safe!