Ready for another

Straight-forward approach helps children prepare for a new sibling

Straight-forward approach helps children prepare for a new sibling

January 31, 2003|by KEVIN CLAPP

Seated with six other youngsters on the carpeted multi-purpose room floor, 7-year-old Sydniy Mabey cradles a lifelike baby doll in her arms.

Under the watchful eyes of registered nurse Brenda Mouser, Sydniy learns how to hold the baby. She learns how newborns must sleep a lot and cannot talk.

Her mother, Megan Mabey-Leach, sits nearby, watching her daughter. On Feb. 25, she is due to give birth to her second child, a girl.


"She's very sensitive anyway, so I don't want her to feel because there's a new baby she's pushed to the side," Mabey-Leach says. "It's going to be an adjustment for her, but, by involving her in as many parts of the process as possible, she won't feel left out or pushed to the side."

Sitting in Washington County Hospital's Dorsey Hall on the second Monday in January, just down the hall from where her sister will be born, this sibling class is the latest step in preparing Sydniy for the baby.

Having a baby is a dizzying whirlwind, a major milestone capturing the attention and imagination of friends and family. Sometimes lost in the shuffle can be soon-to-be-big brother or sister.

But there are ways to include children in the process, nipping sibling rivalry in the bud by avoiding feelings of hostility and jealousy.

Classes at Washington County Hospital, Waynesboro (Pa.) Hospital and City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., are one way. Being forthright with children about pregnancy, childbirth and changing family situations is another.

"Just be honest with the child," says registered nurse Angela Fuss, who teaches the Waynesboro Hospital sibling class. "At that age, children can see through our little lies."

For instance, when Mom's going to the hospital, don't tell children 'Mom's going to the hospital to get the baby,' Fuss says. Instead, say 'Mom's going to the hospital to have her baby.'

A subtle note, perhaps, but one she says rings true.

Sibling classes feature tours of the birthing center, videos and activities meant to involve children in the birth of their siblings.

But a single one- to two-hour class will not prepare children for what is coming. Instead, Washington County Hospital registered nurse Kristy Livengood, one of four sibling class instructors, says parents set the tone for how their child will react to a baby.

"They have a role. They're going to have to be the helper to help take care of this baby, and I think it makes them feel important," Livengood says of children like Sydniy. "A lot of times they're sent off to friends or grandparents (during childbirth). If they've been here and see what's happening, they deal better with the change that's coming."

Sydniy has been involved with her mother's pregnancy almost since the beginning. She has attended all but two of Mabey-Leach's prenatal appointments and is welcome in the delivery room if she would like.

"I wanted her to be involved in every way she can because there is a big age difference," Mabey-Leach says. "I didn't want her to feel too jealous. I wanted her to still feel important."

Kelly Pittsnogle, her husband, Ronnie, and daughter, Kelsey, 6, took the class for similar reasons. Kelly Pittsnogle is due to give birth Feb. 26 and doesn't want her daughter to feel pushed aside.

"She's still an important part of the family," Pittsnogle, of Sharpsburg, says. "The baby is not going to replace her. She still has a duty and responsibility in the family."

When older children feel neglected, problems can arise.

Some children exhibit regressive behaviors (bed wetting, temper tantrums, physical aggression) after a sibling is born.

When severe adjustment problems develop, children are sometimes referred to Candace Rutherford, clinical manager for child and adolescent services at Summit Behavioral Health, part of Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital.

Typically, 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds have the toughest time adapting to babies. They are at a time in their development when they are self-absorbed and can become envious of a baby who takes away attention.

Rutherford uses play therapy to gradually teach youngsters to accept their sibling.

"A lot of times with sibling rivalry it's not anything magical I do in the office," she says. "I give parents the tools they need to fix the issue."

Mabey-Leach asked her daughter if she wanted to take the sibling class, letting Sydniy make the decision to attend. The tour of the birthing center was helpful.

So was holding the baby dolls, learning how it will be to handle her sister.

"She has baby dolls she plays with," Sydniy's mother says, "but I'm not sure she knows how delicate they are."

As hard a job it is to take care of a baby, parents must remember to make time for older children.

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