Before the arrival of the baby
Life with a toddler is challenging as it is, but when it comes to dealing with welcoming a new baby in the family, things can get even more complicated! Aside from the fact that you have to deal with two little human beings craving for your love/milk and attention, having a new baby in the family can be quite traumatizing for the first born, who might feel she/he has been replaced. We have always known we wanted more than one child. We just had to figure out the right time for us and how to deal with the new dynamics. After reading about it and listening to people with similar experience, this is how we prepared our nearly 2,5 year old for a brother.
1. Talk about it: Many articles on the topic advise not to tell young children that they are going to have a sibling until the mother is showing, mainly because 9 months is a very long waiting time for a child. We did the opposite, because I think toddlers understand way more than we think and they will pick up something is going on, even if we don’t tell them what that is. I got pregnant when my son was 20 months old, but even before that, we asked him if he would like to have a little brother or sister. He was very open to the idea and started asking about when that was going to happen.
2. Observe babies: Once he started warming up to the idea of having a sibling, our boy also started observing babies around him. He wanted to play with them or teach them to do things “big boys” do, like running and playing with trucks. He noticed they had no teeth, they were crying a lot, they could not sit up and eat the same food as he did.
3. Show pictures of himself as a baby: Children love to look at themselves in photographs! We made a book with pictures of our child in different stages and ages. He had always access to it and he loved it! (Still does!)
4. Read age-appropriate books: We have got into the habit of going to the library at least once a week. Our boy loves his books, so what better way to get to his heart and mind, than picture books?
We (still) love reading:
- There’s going to be a baby, by John Burningham & Helen Oxenbury
- Our baby inside, by Mick Manning & Brita Gransome
- What baby needs, by William Sears, M.D. and Martha Sears, R.N.
- I am a big brother, by Joanna Cole
- My new baby, by Rachel Fuller
5. No major changes: We prepared our house gradually, so our first born had time to adjust to each change. The cot, changing table, the car seat, were installed over a series of weekends, with his help. This gave him time to adjust to each change. We also thought about the sleeping arrangements. We didn’t want to change anything right before the D-day, so we got our big son a new fire truck bed 6 months before my due date. He absolutely loved it and he had time to get used to it without “blaming” the baby for the change. We did the same with the preschool arrangements. He started going a couple of half days a week, 4 months before the big arrival. Then he happily attended two full days! The time frame for this kind of adjustments is 3 months. No big changes 3 months before and 3 months after the baby arrives.
6. Prepare the child for what happens during hospitalization: Mostly because we don’t have family around to help, we “dragged” our toddler to all our midwife/doctor’s appointments and he loved learning about what was going on and being involved in many big decisions! So we decided to visit the maternity ward where I was going to have the baby, together. We showed our son the delivery room and the nursery. He even got to see newborns being breastfed! We told him I was going to stay there with the baby for a couple of days and he will be home with his grandparents and his dad until he could come and visit.
After the arrival of the baby
7. Introduce the baby: Thinking about this moment, I always envisioned my toddler falling in love with his baby brother immediately! On the other hand, I knew it might be hard to bond and accept someone who invades your space and steals your parents’ attention. That is why we agreed the best way to introduce our baby was in a neutral space: the hospital. I made sure my toddler didn’t find me holding the baby. I knew exactly when he was going to visit, so I went to meet him outside. We walked in together. I told him his brother was in the basinet. When he didn’t want to look, I did not insist. He wanted to nurse first (yes, I know!). After that, he went to the basinet and said: “Is he moving? Is he mine? Can we take him home now?” My heart melted. We also encouraged him to call his brother by name, and we did the same (instead of saying “the baby”).
8. Bring the baby home together: When the time came to go home, we applied the same strategy: bringing the baby home together rather than having him “invade” our son’s space. He helped dressing the baby and pushing the pram, opened the door of our house, and showing him around.
9. Get him involved: Like all toddlers, our son loves to help! With everything! “I help you!” he says. So he did help, getting nappies, giving the baby a bath, singing to him to sleep, etc. He even had a baby boy doll he practiced his parenting skills with. (It is scary how well he can copy my behavior!)
10. Spend quality time together: No matter how busy, and trust me, having a new born and a toddler is intense, I made sure I found time for my eldest. We have managed to keep our “going to bed ritual” the same since the day he was born. This is our special time, just the two of us. He has one on one time with his father as well, every day. It is important to spend quality time together as a family, but our children need alone time with each parent individually as well in order to bond and feel important. As they grow, they learn how wonderful it is to develop separate relationships with each parent. In time, these shared experiences turn into memories that last forever, deepen your bond and make it unique. (I remember the walks in the forest and motorcycle rides with my dad and Saturday shopping with my mom like yesterday!)
NB: I have to admit this has been quite a ride! We noticed some changes in our son’s behavior before the baby was born. We acknowledged his feeling and accepted them without trying to change them. We are now a family of four and there is harmony again in our home. We have not noticed any signs of jealousy or rejection. Yet. It has only been three months and I might speak too soon, but I think we are on the right track.