Trying to prepare your first child for a new sibling is a lot like trying to prepare for an earthquake. Just like an earthquake, the idea of a new baby remains abstract and theoretical until the baby actually arrives!
Commonly, the older the child, the easier the adjustment – especially if they have been through this before with another sibling. Having said that, we should not that an adjustment period after the arrival of a new baby is to be expected with children of any age or place in the birth order.
It is often after the first couple of weeks at home with a new baby that children begin to act out. The excitement has died down and they have begun to realize that this baby is here to stay. This shift in behaviour can be surprising to parents.
Here are some practical ideas to put into your preparedness toolbox.
Planning ahead. If you have an older child who is about to become a sibling it mightbe helpful to read books together about what it is like to have a baby. This could encourage a discussion and your child may open up with some questions. Talking about upcoming changes and addressing concerns without over emphasizing or making a “beg deal” is a good way to communicate the impending changes without contributing to your child’s anxiety levels.
Tap Into a Support Well. Sometimes the transition from one child to two is more difficult on children who rely heavily on mom for everything. While pregnant, begin to include your partner or other family members in the care of your child. Encourage playdates at Grandma’s, outings with a favourite aunt or uncle, an hour spent with a treasured friend but do try to maintain an activity that you and your child love to do together. If both of you look forward to a special bath time or bed time ritual, continue to do that activity just the two of you.
Routine. Rituals and routines make children feel safe and comfortable. A seemingly unpredictable world can feel so much more secure and structured and routines and boundaries are always important. This is not the ideal time to remove children from activities such as daycare or after school classes. Doing so would add an element of uncertainty. Instead, try asking a friend or family member to participate or drive. This would allow you the rest you need while still expanding the circle of care and trust in your child’s life.
Get your child involved. When we include children in the care of a newborn sibling it can soothe any sense of displacement. Ask for help with diaper changes, or to pass the shampoo at Baby’s bath time, allow your older child to pick out the Baby’s clothes. Remember that you will need to how them how to help and that sometimes, watching is helping too. Children of all ages and both genders benefit from activities that nurture such as diapering and feeding.
Be a Source of Reassurance. Often parents report a regression in their first child’s behaviour. This could include whining, a resurgence of baby talk or some bedwetting/accidents even if they’ve been toilet trained for some time already. This can be frustrating for parents but it’s important to remember that these incidents are often your child’s way of trying to get your attention, after all, thats how the Baby gets your attention isn’t it? Recognize these incidents as a sign of insecurity and avoid shaming or engaging in power struggles. Instead, reassure your older child of your deep love for them and be clear about how you would like them to behave, “I would love to help you with that. I also love to hear you speak in your big girl/big boy voice.”
Create a breastfeeding station: In a 24 hour period, a mother will breastfeed for an amount of time equivalent to a full time job! This will require your older child to learn to wait, one of the most difficult adjustments for a child to make and watching mom breastfeed a new baby can exacerbate the impatience. Create a cozy and comfortable “Nursing Nest” with an assortment of games and activities nearby for your big kid. This makes breast-feeding an inclusive activity that your children can both participate in.