If presents arrive for the new baby, let your older child open the packages. Many of your friends and relatives—especially those who are parents themselves—may be savvy enough to send small presents for your older child whenever they send something for a newborn. But just in case, you might want to keep some small presents for your older child on hand to minimize jealousy.
All the preparation in the world may not affect more than the first few days at home with the new baby. After your baby has been born, you, your partner, your child, and the baby will all have to make the best of the upheaval this arrival creates. There's no turning back now. And it will help enormously if you get off on the right foot.
If your baby is born in a hospital, have someone else carry him when you come home. You need to have your arms free and ready to give your child a big hug. (You also may want to give her a little present "from the baby.") Then try to spend at least a few minutes with your older child before rushing off to tend to the baby.
In your baby's first week or two at home, try to make your older child feel as loved and special as possible. Plan some special time alone with your older child. Or if, for example, your older child is more attached to one of you than the other, have the other hold the baby whenever possible. This will enable you to preserve your special bond with your oldest child.
If you breastfeed your baby, be discreet-at least at first. As you know from your first child, breastfeeding cements a special bond between mother and child. Your child will on some level recognize this. So it will only fan the flames of jealousy to nurse your baby in front of your older child. Try to give your child a few days or a week to get used to the idea that the baby is here to stay before letting her watch you nurse the baby. Enlist your partner or some other caregiver to do something special with her when the baby needs to eat.
When you decide it's time to let your older child watch you breastfeed, talk to her about it. Explain how the baby eats and what the baby eats. Remind your child that that's how she ate, too—before she got big enough to feed herself "real food." Be sure to ask if your child has any questions. Don't be surprised if her question is whether she can taste some breast milk. If it makes you uncomfortable to do so, gently refuse your child and tell her why. But if the idea doesn't repel you, then why not? Put a few drops on your finger and give your child a taste.
In explaining breastfeeding and talking to your child about other aspects of baby care, continue to cultivate an attitude of benign superiority. Repeatedly point out to your older child the many things she can do that the baby cannot, for example walking, talking, feeding herself, bathing, jumping, singing, and doing somersaults.
In extolling your older child's abilities, suggest that maybe she could teach the baby when she gets a little bit older, too. Even a patronizing attitude on your older child's part is better than out-and-out hostility.
Her sense of superiority may allow your older child to help you care for the baby. If she seems willing, ask your child to help in any small way she can. She can run and get you a diaper, hold a bottle for the baby, or gently stroke the baby's hand or cheek or tickle his toes. If your child refuses to help, don't insist on it or make a big deal of it. Instead, try to understand the difficult emotions that underlie her refusal.