Even the most easy-going children can struggle when their status as an only child changes to big brother or sister. No longer being the sole focus of mum and dad can be difficult to accept and then there are all the other changes that can threaten to derail any hope of a harmonious homecoming for baby.
My family will never let me forget the scowl that was permanently planted on my face for weeks after my little brother was born. My tantrum at our first meeting in the hospital was so epic, the memories are still etched in my mind even though I was not even three at the time. I can recall being given a Humphrey Bear doll by my parents, which they expected I would happily handover to this baby they were calling my brother. Needless to say no one could loosen my grip on that bear.
Now that I am just weeks away from bringing home a baby sister for my four-year-old son, I am trying to ensure he is somewhat prepared for the newborn tornado that is about to hit our house.
Here are some of the subtle and simple ways I am helping my son prepare for the arrival of his little sister.
1. Include them in medical appointments
Mum’s blossoming bump will only go part way to explaining the whole baby in the belly concept to children. Including them in your shorter check-ups and scans, where they can hear baby’s heartbeat or see bub on the screen, can help create a clearer picture.
2. Visit friends with babies
It’s easy to get children excited about a new sibling when you can conjure images of a permanent playmate coming their way but in reality, babies don’t come out ready to ride bikes or play with Lego. It can help to let them see what babies are like up close in those first few months by visiting friends or family with infants. If you don’t know anyone with a little one, you could always head to a park, playgroup or shopping centre.
3. Encourage their input
Children love to be involved and you really don’t want them associating a feeling of being left out with the new baby, especially before they’ve even been born! There are so many ways to encourage a child’s input in the preparations for their new sibling. Parents may want to maintain control over the big decisions such as baby’s name but there are plenty of other decisions to be made from the colour or theme of the nursery to the first outfit baby will come home in.
My son loves to paint, and loves seeing his artwork on display even more, so I set up a small canvas with masking tape creating a geometric pattern, which he painted in the colours we chose for the nursery. Pulling away the tape, he was in awe of his masterpiece, which will take a prominent place in his little sister’s room.
4. Read books on the subject
Introducing sibling and baby-related children’s books to your story time is a great way to introduce the idea of a baby in ways your child can understand. It is also a great way to start the conversation and encourage questions. If you are stuck for ideas, why not check out one of these 16 books that are perfect for soon-to-be siblings?
5. Go through baby photo albums
The topic children are most fond of is themselves – so take a trip down memory lane and show them photos of when they were babies. Talk them through all the special milestones they’ve had since and relate their behaviour (crying, crying and more crying) as a baby to the behaviour they can expect from their new little brother or sister.
6. Baby doll practice
Having a doll to ‘practice’ with gives children a real visual of baby’s size and allows them a small preview of what it’s like to change a nappy, bath baby, strap baby into the pram or car capsule. But mostly it is a great way for parents to prepare themselves for the extra vigilance they will need to protect baby from their, albeit well-meaning, older sibling.
7. Make baby-related changes early
As all parents know it can be the smallest things that upset or excite our young ones. For this reason my husband and I started making some of the smaller changes we needed, ahead of baby’s arrival. For example, we have already moved our sons car seat to the other side of the car so he doesn’t associate it with losing his spot to the baby but instead sees it as gaining a new big position. The same principal could apply to changing rooms, beds and even daycare or preschool days.
8. Wean children on to other people
Wean the kids on to other people (Dad, Nanna, Aunty, hell even the neighbour) as much as possible before baby arrives. There’s no negotiating with a toddler when you’re clutching a crying newborn and they only want you to help them ride their balance bike. If they’ll happily skip along with someone else, that helps. A LOT.