“Is she really staying?!” I asked as a 5-year-old about my newborn sister… A great friendship is not a given between siblings even though we are now best friends!
It is a very big step for your toddler to share the space with that new little creature (all red and wrinkly which only sleeps and cries – how boring!) and we seem to underestimate that impact. The way this is handled will make a difference long term. Children might respond better if they have been well included in the process of birth and the immediate postnatal period. This is a big topic that I discuss with clients as their Birth and Postnatal Doula.
Here are a few tips to ease this important transition:
- Time is relative for a 2-year-old so don’t overwhelm him/her by talking too much about the baby during your pregnancy.
- If possible, avoid big changes in the toddler’s routine around the birth (start potty training, new school or moving house,…) Having a sibling is enough as a change!
- Take time to look through your older child’s photo of when he/she was a baby and emphasize that he/she was cared for in the same way.
- Use a calendar to mark the coming birth as a fun family countdown.
- Give your toddler realistic information about babies and that baby won’t be a playmate just yet.
- Try and find a neutral place for the first encounter (hospital, relative’s house) so that your firstborn doesn’t feel invaded in he/she’s space and you can then all bring baby home together.
- Purchase a little present for your toddler explaining it is a present from baby when they first meet.
- You can ask your toddler to introduce the baby to friends and relatives if she/he wishes to.
- Pick tasks the child can help with around baby (fetching nappies, helping with the bath, pushing the pram…)
- Allow he/she to touch, cuddle or kiss baby. Accept the curiosity about bub. Avoid using “no…don’t…stop…” and replace with positive instructions when he/she is around baby.
- Remind friends and relatives that your older child might want to talk about something other than the new baby.
- If your older child acts out or regresses to behave like a baby, don’t get angry or impatient. Acknowledge and validate what he/she feels.
- Try to keep your toddler’s routine as normal as possible after the birth so he doesn’t feel like his/her whole life is upside down: going to school, meals, bedtime, …
- Make special time alone with your toddler when baby is sleeping for example and share his/she’s favourite activity.
- Find books to read about the topic of becoming a big brother or sister so they know they are not along with these mix feelings about baby!
– “There is a house inside my mummy” by Giles Andreae & Vanessa Cabban
– “Hello in there!” by Jo Witek
After the Birth
– “My naughty little sister” by Dorothy Edwards and iconic illustrations by Shirely Hughes
– “How to be a Baby… by me, the big sister” by Sally Lloyd-Jones
– “You were the first” by Patricia Maclachlan