Having a baby doesn't just affect you and your partner; it impacts anyone else who shares your life, namely your pets and other children. While parents, in-laws, and friends might also need some prep time, they are unlikely to need the hand-holding and preparation that those who will be living with the baby might require. Current Children and pets who are used to being your center of attention, or are living a relatively quiet consistent life, will need help adjusting to the odd hours and responsibilities that come hand and hand with a new baby.
Older children are about to become siblings, and going from being mom and dad's single focus to second fiddle can be a little hard to take. No matter how you plan to divide your attention, babies take focused attention that might leave your current child feeling left out. Preparing your child ahead of time for what to expect can help reassure them that while the changes that are happening might be significant, they are still an important part of the family and will still get the love they deserve.
Ways to Help Children Feel Included
- Sharing age-appropriate details of baby's growth and birth.
- Letting siblings help choose nursery items, clothing, or special gifts.
- Talk to them about changes that may happen, and how things might look after the baby arrives.
- Reading books about siblings getting along and getting ready for the arrival of the new baby is also good. A book like Kid's Book to Welcome a New Baby: Fun Things to Do and Learn for a Big Brother or Sister can give you creative ideas on getting siblings involved and excited.
- Encourage kids to ask questions and express their feelings, whether those are positive or negative.
- Don't disregard their feelings or tell them they are silly. Instead, reassure them that you will always love and care for them and that having another baby won't change this. Talk about how much fun a sibling will be and what new things they will get to enjoy because of the new baby.
- You can help bolster their confidence by encouraging them to participate in the birthing process or simple caretaking of the baby (with help and supervision) after they arrive.
- Spend time with them alone after the baby comes. Even just 10 minutes a day to read or snuggle can mean a lot to a child that used to have you all to themselves.
Prepping the family pet is also important and in some regards perhaps more important if that pet has four legs and a set of sharp teeth. While you can get by without much prep for your pet turtle or fish, your cat or dog might need some lead time and acclimation before the baby arrives. Babies make a lot of new and weird sounds and smells, and they come with a passel of strange gear that chirps, sings, and swings. All of these things can be distressing to your pet and can lead to unwanted behaviors that span from annoying to life-threatening, so it is important to do some pre-baby prep work to help set Fido up for success come game time.
- Start buying and setting up the baby gear at least one month before baby's arrival, sooner if possible. Getting your dog or cat used to all the new gadgets is half the battle, so if you set them up and turn them on before the baby comes home, then they have ample time to adjust to the new gear. Not many dogs are afraid of the remote control because they see it all the time. Make sure they feel the same way about the swing, bouncer, and mobile by setting them up and using them as if a baby were already there.
- Stop the 24-hour love fest. This one is hard but essential to success. If your dog gets all your attention and then the baby comes home, and he never sees you again, he will associate this lack of love with baby's arrival and potentially blame the baby for the shift. It is best to start tapering off the attention as soon as you find out you are pregnant. We aren't suggesting you ignore them, try to incorporate more independent time into their schedule. If you do a little at a time over nine months, they won't notice or feel unloved, and you will be able to focus on the baby instead of a jealous furball.
- Buy a baby sounds CD like Baby Sounds for Pets. It sounds goofy, and your dog will certainly know that isn't a real baby, but the more acclimated he gets to the sounds of crying, screaming and general cooing, the less interested he is likely to be when the real thing arrives.
- Read a book. Some basic reading and prep training time can be the difference between a prepped puppy and a snarling beast. The Good Dog, Happy Baby: Preparing Your Dog for the Arrival of Your Child is a good place to start and a quick read with just three chapters.
- Take that stroller and pup on a walk now. Sure you'll feel silly walking an empty stroller, but getting your dog used to walking with a stroller before it has a baby in it is far safer than risking your pup freaking out, tangling their leash in the wheels and knocking baby on the sidewalk. Practice makes perfect, and your dog can learn that fun walks include this weird contraption. Then when the baby comes, he will be happy to share the walk with the little one and will associate the baby with fun times.
- After the baby is born, have your partner bring home a blanket or similar item from the hospital for your dog to sniff before you bring baby home. The theory is that when the baby comes home, his scent isn't as strange as it might have been otherwise.
- Hire a professional. If your dog has trouble with new people or situations or has a history of aggression or anxiety, it is best to call in the experts for help. Taking care of behavior problems before baby arrives is simpler than trying to manage a crying infant and an unruly pet. Bringing in a professional behaviorist ahead of time can make the difference between a dog who is ready for baby and a dog who might need a new home.
The following video reiterates important points mentioned above and contains additional pearls to make the transition for your dog a smooth one.