Welcoming a new child is a blessing that adds joy to the family but it is also a huge change for toddlers and other siblings. Preparing them for this change can make the transition go so much better and lead to a better sibling relationship in the long run.
Solu was almost 19 months old when Metu was born. These are some of the things that helped us with the transition.
Notify Them: It is important to let the child know that you are expecting a baby. When to let the child know depends on you and also on the age of the child. We chose to let our older son know very early in the process (around 12 weeks). I think by the time the bump appears, you should consider notifying the child. We started by tell him there’s a baby in there. He was about 12/13 months old at the time. We told him he could rub or kiss mummy’s belly and the baby would feel it. We also took him with us to doctor’s appointments and he could see the ultrasounds. Whether he understood or not, we felt this was important because children and their understanding of happenings around them are frequently underestimated.Once we knew we were having a baby boy, we started referring to the baby as his brother and chose a name so that we could all start referring to the baby by his name.
With an older child, you can provide concrete way to give an idea of the timeline. These can be activities such creating a calendar or even measuring and keeping track of the growth of the belly. The goal is that the child knows that a change is coming and understands (relative to his age) what is happening.
Prepare Them: What kind of changes will happen when the new baby comes? Think of these and then help child prepare. Some common ones are that they will need to be more independent and maybe spend longer amounts of time without your direct intervention. They will need to be gentle with the baby and respect more limits. You can prepare them by first preparing the environment to encourage independence and concentration – step stools for more accessibility. Snack and water set ups for accessibility, age–appropriate activities etc.
- we modeled gentleness in our interactions with him.
- We also did more practical life activities that required a gentle touch such as working with eggs, and caring for plants etc.
- We visited and invited friends with babies. This allowed us to observe his interactions with the babies and see what needed to be worked on
- We worked together on the baby’s spaces and discussed the limits so when baby is lying on the blanket you can sit just outside of the blanket
- We also worked on helping him become more independent in feeding and dressing himself, also in asking for or getting a snack and drinking water.
One other important thing is to let them know when the time is close. “The baby will be here soon. It may be tomorrow!” Be excited and happy about it because they will frequently mirror our emotions. Those last days/weeks can be hard but try to enjoy it with your family because once the baby comes, he/she will take a lot of your attention.
Once the baby comes,
Trust Them: It is normal to have the protective instinct for the baby but you have to trust your older child and the preparation that you have done. Let them touch and carry the baby. Let them lie close to the baby, look at, examine gently and get to know the baby. If you see them trying to interact with the baby, don’t discourage them, instead model the right way to do it. A topponcino is great for making it possible for the child to carry the baby safely. I really believe in the positive effect of physical contact on relationship so I encouraged a lot of gentle contact between my boys from the very start. This included baths together, sleeping next to each other, playing in close proximity etc.
Another important thing which shows trust, is to
Involve Them in the care of the baby:
- Young children who are learning to dress up can help in dressing and undressing the baby.
- They can put on the socks or take them off, do or undothe fastenings etc.
- They can also help in other ways such as bringing a clean diaper or disposing of a soiled diaper.
- They can help load and unload the constant newborn laundry
- They can help set up and clean up for baby’s bath
- They can bring mummy a cup of water or a snack or a napkin
- They can “read” to the baby or talk to them while mummy dresses up or prepares lunch
- You can send them to check on the baby and welcome their observations e.g. “I think I hear the baby, do you? Is he crying? Can you check?” In this way they become your little helper and start to observe the baby’s communications, movements etc. They also begin to feel some responsibility for the baby.
There is so much they can do that makes them feel like a part of the process and also bonds them with you and the baby. It just requires you to be patient, trust and model.
Finally, Remember Them: When there is this new tiny baby around, it is very normal to forget that your other children are young too. They immediately seem so grown up and your expectations of them magnify. Remember they are your babies too. Be kind to them. Make out time for them or find someone (partner, grandparent, nanny or whoever) to focus on them. For us, my husband took this role and spent a lot of time with Solu during the symbiotic period. They took a Montessori parent-toddler class together once or twice a week as well as a Music Together class. They also took a lot of trips to the park and just had a lot of special things to share.
Reading to them while nursing is also a good way to connect, playing with them for a little while the baby naps are some ways to remember them. Make a conscious effort to give them some one on one time everyday and remember to tell them how much you love them. When they inevitably act up or seek for some attention, see beyond their actions to the needs driving them and remind them of how much you love them.
Even with all of this, they will still act out sometimes and it will be hard but you must remember that their life as they have always known it just changed completed, so try to react kindly and with grace remembering that you are the model for how they should act when frustrated.
Congratulations on your new or coming addition and I wish you and your toddler(s) a peaceful transition
Do you have other tips for preparing young children for a new sibling? Share in the comments 🙂