So you have just found out that there is another little addition on the way; a sibling for your toddler. It may have been planned or an unexpected gift, but there are some things to think about and do before the new arrival in terms of preparing your oldest child(ren).
When you feel ready to announce to the world that you are having a baby, that is the time to start preparing your young one. Depending on the age of your toddler, you may or may not directly tell them about the impending birth, but there are other things you might do. If they are under 18 months, they may not fully understand the implications of having a younger brother or sister. However, preparing them in advance for sibling relationships seems to be the most logical approach. For one, you could begin moving your child into a bed (if they are old enough) so they do not “blame” the new baby for taking their cot. If you plan on making any other changes in your toddler’s life, these need to be organised well before the arrival so they do not associate these with the new baby. Let your child know that the baby will NOT be able to play with them, but they will sleep or cry nearly all the time (at least from your toddler’s perspective!). Explain to your toddler know what an important role being a big brother or sister is. Describe it with great enthusiasm (eg. “You can be a great helper with the new baby by helping bathe feed/dress/rock the baby”, etc.).
Here are some ideas that you can organise before you go to the hospital. Some people wrap a small gift for their toddler and place it in the baby’s hospital bed so the baby can “give” him or her the present. Another suggestion is to have small gifts for every day that your toddler visits so they do not feel that the baby is getting everything. This also ensures that your toddler has something new to keep them occupied and distracted while others are admiring your new baby. Another great idea is to let your toddler choose which outfit the new baby will wear home from hospital. This way they feel more included and important in the process of the homecoming.
Toddlers love to help! Include your child in all of the tasks involved in caring for a baby. They really can be a great help getting nappies or bibs, and they love to help entertain a baby to keep them quiet. When the baby is being fed, your toddler can “feed” his or her teddy or doll with you.
The reality is, the young baby is not a new person to play with. Your toddler may see the new family member as in imposition at times because mum and dad’s attention is taken away from them. So as parents it is important to make sure that you spend some individual quality time teaching them about sibling relationships while doing other fun things. This can be a great opportunity for parents to brush up on their jigsaw puzzle skills! Some other fun activities you can do with your toddler can include reading together, card games (I am sure we all remember playing “Go Fish” or “Snap” when we were young!), noughts and crosses, singing songs (not just nursery rhymes, but songs that you both enjoy), or even drawing together.
Having said that, it is equally as important to schedule some “together time” as well! You are now a slightly larger family, and you need to arrange some positive situations where you can all experiment with and get accustomed to the new dynamics and personalities.
Keep in mind that even the most passive and sensitive toddler is likely to succumb to jealousy at some stage after the arrival of the new addition. Again, we can attempt to reduce this, but feeling displaced by a new baby is something to be expected.
As they get a little older, it is essential to do some reading about sibling relationships and rivalry. The fact is, it is a healthy way of working out how best to behave in relationships in a relatively safe learning environment. Even though as parents it often upsets us because we dislike the arguments between our precious children, it is important for them to learn which behaviours work and which ones do not. Of course parents should intervene if someone is getting physically hurt, or if they are obviously unable to sort out the problem. Otherwise it’s a good idea to let them try and sort out their difference themselves as much as possible.
After the birth of a second or subsequent child, we need to remember to look after ourselves. There are so many things that we need to think about (eg. older sibling(s), new baby, hormonal changes in the mother, reduction in income if the mother was working, loss of sleep, etc.). There are a lot of pressures on us as parents, and we need to make sure that we look after ourselves at this time. If your baby is asleep, that is a good time to have a rest yourself. And your toddler can have a nap too! But if your toddler has given up naps, then teach him or her to enjoy books, pencils and paper, or even a DVD!
Adding another member to your family is such a rewarding and exciting experience. It changes the dynamics in the family and is such a wonderful learning experience for everyone. Sibling relationships can teach your older child(ren) a great deal about behaviour, sharing, and empathy which is something they will take with them through to adulthood.
For more information see Emotional Development.
By Sally-Anne McCormack M.A.P.S.
Dip T (Psych Maj); Postgrad Dip Psych (Ed); B Ed: M Psych (Ed & Dev)