Journey to Preschool, Part 2: Becoming a Family of Four
Follow Alaina and her family as she starts preschool for the first time.
Read along as Brooklyn, NY mom Rachel Chou recounts her experiences as her daughter, Alaina, starts preschool. Child development expert Adele M. Brodkin, Ph.D., adds her observations and comments.
Getting Ready for Baby
It's been a little over three weeks since school began, and our daughter, Alaina, has been having the time of her life. She has adjusted to the schedule of the classroom, to her new classmates and teachers, and to being dropped off at school by Mommy, Daddy, or Patty, her babysitter.
Dr. Brodkin: I must concede that these parents understand their child — they were certainly correct about her readiness for a group program. Not every two year old is. If yours isn't performing as independently as Alaina, please don't worry that he is behind schedule in any way.
In an effort to get Alaina ready for being a big sister her teachers are reading books in class about babies, talking to Alaina about becoming a big sister, and placing new baby dolls and their accessories around the classroom. Alaina really likes to play with the baby dolls. At home, she talks all the time about being a big sister, and especially about helping mommy feed and bathe the baby. She calls herself "Baby Alaina" and crawls around on all fours. My husband and I have begun to talk less about the upcoming event as we see Alaina's anticipation and anxiety grow, especially since it seems like everyone around her is talking about the new baby and asking when it will arrive.
Another very wise observation. There is a fine line between appropriately preparing your child for a new baby and overdoing it — evoking anxiety. First, there is no way to completely prepare her for this event, just as there is no way to completely prepare for becoming a parent. Second, an implicit message of overpreparation can be "your whole world is going to be changed by this." Instead, take the position that although there will be changes, you will always be my adored child. I am not suggesting saying those words, but rather having them in mind as the preparations for the baby are under way. Be sensitive to what your older child may need, rather than want.
Welcome, Little Brother!
Along with any new bundle of joy comes a parcel of stress and anxiety. We had of course been worried throughout my pregnancy about Alaina's reaction to losing her "only child" status. We planned ahead as much as possible but as anyone with children knows, you can only do so much.
Very early one October morning, I delivered a healthy baby boy. We named him Beili. Later that morning, my husband went home to see Alaina just after she woke up. He had taken some digital pictures at the hospital, and he projected them on the TV and explained to Alaina that she had a baby brother. "I want to hold him!" she shouted happily. My husband printed out a picture for her, and she took it to school to show her classmates and teacher. The teachers made a poster and had all of the children "sign" it. It hung on the door of the classroom for a week. Alaina was thrilled!
We waited until the day I was coming home to bring Alaina to the hospital so that we could all leave together. Alaina went to the window of the nursery and saw her brother, and then helped push his bassinet into our room. She was so excited! We took pictures of her holding her baby brother. Thanks to a tip from some friends who had been through this before, we had wrapped a new baby doll for Alaina and told her that it was a present from Beili. She loved this, and for days she mimicked everything I did with the baby. It gave her a way to "help" without getting too "hands on."
It's all going remarkably well. Alaina may be feeling relieved: "So this is what they were talking so much about! It's not so bad."
A Family of Four
Things have gone as well as one could expect over the past few weeks. It was around the third day after we came home from the hospital that we started to see the telltale signs of jealousy: Out of the blue, Alaina asked me where Beili's home was, and who his mommy and daddy were.
This is right out of the textbook on new baby behavior. It's as if the young child says, "Wait a minute; I didn't sign on for this to be forever." Some children propose sending the baby home with grandma, if she's been visiting and is getting ready to leave. Others want to take him back to the hospital, to a store where someone might buy him, or even suggest tossing him out of the car window.
The next week, when it was time for Alaina to leave for school, she said she didn't want to go. Predictably, she wanted to stay with Mama and Beili. After considerable coaxing, she went off with Patty, and ended up having a great time at school. The next day, I took Alaina to school, bringing her baby brother in his sling. I stayed in the classroom and played for about 15 minutes. Alaina's teachers, Fran and Pam, were wonderfully helpful: The moment I said goodbye, they stepped in to occupy her with an activity.
Since then, I've noticed that Alaina has asked me to stay and play with her in her classroom more often than before Beili's birth. All things considered, she has adapted well to life with her baby brother. Most of the time, she is touchingly gentle; she is very fond of giving him kisses and playing with his fingers and toes. Of course, there are moments when she shows signs of the fratricidal tendencies our pediatrician warned us about: today, my husband dove to catch a pumpkin in midair after Alaina decided to dangle it by its stem over her beloved baby brother. We're sure the next few months have plenty in store for all of us!
Next: So Much to Learn