Toddlers can find the arrival of another small person in their world rather challenging – sharing the stage is not always easy!
Here are five ways to help your child adjust to life with a sibling:
1 Let your older child choose a present to give the new baby to welcome them to the family –and to reciprocate, organise a gift that the new baby can ‘give’ to your toddler. A doll with a bag of nappy-changing gear works well for some children. Such a gift will make a great prop for the role play big brothers and sisters inevitably do when they watch their parents with the new baby. It’s pretty cute the first time you see your toddler lift their shirt to ‘breastfeed’ their doll too.
2 While being sympathetic, establish clear boundaries and rules around the new baby and make sure your older child knows you're in charge. Toddlers and older children may feel resentful towards the new baby, and while those feelings are natural and to be expected, explain to your child that it is not okay to hurt the baby. Teach your child about being gentle – she could practise ‘gentle hands’ on the family pet or her toys. Teach your child how to hold baby safely (with your help) and allow plenty of time for your older child to give baby unrushed cuddles.
3 Have a special 'hands-free' activity you can do with your child while you're feeding baby. This could include reading or making up stories, singing, or playing ‘I Spy’. You could also put together a ‘big kid kit’ with things to do and play with, maybe even a snack or two, that your child can play with when you are feeding or settling the new baby.
4 Make big brother or sister feel important by giving them special jobs. This will help your older child feel grown up, especially if she is considering reverting back to babyhood herself! Praise her efforts at helping, encourage her that you couldn’t do it without her – that you really need her ‘big kid help’. Even toddlers can help with collecting nappies, moving toys, picking up towels etc. Delegate a special daily task to your older child, for example getting the mail from the box, or opening and closing the curtains.
5 The most important thing you can do to help your older child adjust to life with a baby brother or sister is possibly the trickiest thing to facilitate – ensuring your older child gets plenty of one-on-one time. Young children are rather egotistical by nature, ‘What’s in it for me?’ being a typical state of mind.
While the adults think it must be great to have a live-in playmate, even toddlers figure out pretty quickly that they have lost centre stage. Remember, actions speak louder than words, so one-on-one time is hugely valuable for filling up their little love tanks. Mums of newborns certainly have their hands full, so get Dad, grandparents, aunts or uncles to dedicate some one-on-one time to big brother or sister, and when baby is asleep, a story and a cuddle on the couch with Mum will mean the world to your older child.
Big brothers and sisters may recognise some of the feelings around welcoming a new baby in these endearing stories about expanding families.
1 Hattie Helps Out, Jane Godwin and Davina Bell, RRP$27.99, Allen and Unwin
2 Too Busy Sleeping, Zanni Louise, RRP$27.99, Little Hare
3 Alphonse, That Is Not OK to Do!, Daisy Hirst, RRP$27.99, Walker Books
4 The New Small Person, Lauren Child, RRP$19.99, Penguin UK