What if they cry or poop at the same time? What if they never sleep at the same time? Can I possibly love another baby as much as I love my first? And how well will the two of them get along?
A second baby comes with a new set of questions and challenges. Here are eight time-tested, expert-approved tips for the one at the top of your mind right now: how to prepare your darling firstborn for life with his or her new sibling.
1. Pick the right time
Waiting until the second trimester to give your little one the “big news” is widely considered best for practical reasons. By this time, you’ll not only know that all is well with your pregnancy, but you may also (if you choose to find out) be able to tell your oldest whether she’ll be getting a little sister or brother. At this point you can show as well as tell her, too: letting your first-born feel her new sibling kicking may make it seem more “real” to her.
Tying the new baby’s arrival to an upcoming date or season (your baby brother will be here when the snow is gone, or before Christmas, etc) can also help…but then again, it might not. “Before two or two-and-a-half,” says mother of two Elyse Eberstein, MSW, LE, “nine months is an eternity,” and it’s not reasonable to expect the child to fully understand the concept of her sibling’s impending arrival.
2. Keep it simple
Telling your little one that a new little brother or sister is joining your family doesn’t need to involve “the talk.” Janeen Hayward, founder of Swellbeing, a parenting resource service, suggests a “short and sweet” approach, such as “Mommy and Daddy have decided to have another baby. My belly will get bigger and bigger until the baby is born.”
There’s a good chance that your toddler won’t have any follow-up questions related to the mechanics of pregnancy, but if he does, you might consider buying an age-appropriate book on the subject, or just buying yourself a minute with my personal favourite response to a real stumper: “That’s a great question…what do you think?” The answers are usually pretty adorable, and give you some insight into her actual concerns. For all you know, she is worried you ate something to make your belly that big, and she doesn’t want to eat it, too!
3. Spend time with babies
A second pregnancy is a particularly great time to have your toddler spend time with babies. With the parents’ approval, your little one can practice touching the baby gently, and “helping” by retrieving a diaper from a basket, or playing peekaboo.
Having your toddler observe a new baby is a golden opportunity for you to discuss the baby’s usual activities (sleeping, crying, feeding), to affirm that her new sibling will do all of the above, and to answer her questions.
Alternatively (or in addition), you can spend some time playing “mommy” with a doll and reading books about new siblings. The one we read (and read and read and still occasionally read, three years later) is I’m a Big Sister Now, by Joanna Cole.
The New Baby by Mercer Mayer is another good one. Some hospitals have classes for big siblings-to-be, too.
4. Walk down memory lane
Show your child pictures of himself as a baby, tell him about your happy memories of those days, and marvel at how much he’s grown. Though it’s a particularly useful exercise for a toddler with little “baby” experience, most little kids are fascinated by their baby-selves, and will ask to see the photos again and again. Some parents make a special photo book for the child to flip through on his or her own; there are many easy-to-use services online if you’d like to go this route.
5. Involve him in the preparations
There are many ways to give your eldest a role in all the exciting preparations for his new sibling, such as asking for his opinion on baby names, making a piece of art for the nursery together, or choosing a present for the baby. My eldest was (and still is) obsessed with clothes, so she was very happy to pick out a special outfit for the baby, as well as a shirt with “big sister” written on in it in glittering gold letters for herself. Some parents also choose a present “from” the baby for the kids to exchange, or wrap small gifts to have on hand for the older child when the baby arrives and is showered with gifts from visiting well-wishers.
6. Do a practice run
If your older child will be spending the night with a friend or relative while you are at the hospital, you might think about planning a “practice” sleepover a week or two in advance, particularly if she has never spent a night away from you and/or is apprehensive about the idea. By the nine-month mark, you’ll probably enjoy a night off duty, and the time apart can help to prepare your child for sharing you with her new brother or sister.
7. Encourage his independence
If your toddler is ready, you may want to focus on building skills such as dressing himself to make the impending transition from one to two kids a little easier for everyone. If you’re considering “big” changes (such as potty training, or moving from a crib to a bed), the experts say it’s best to introduce them either a few months before or after the baby is born.
It’s very natural for kids to regress or want to be “babied” again after the new one arrives (and vacuums up mum’s attention), which can be extra frustrating if the child’s independence in the bathroom, for example, was hard-won during those wearying end days of pregnancy. Also, if the crib is going to his new sister’s room, it is less likely that big brother will feel resentful for having been “kicked out” by the baby if he’s already grown to love his new bed before she arrives.
Every child adjusts to a new sibling in her own time, and in her own way. Once you’ve done what you can to prepare your child for his promotion to Big Brother, all you need to do is wait, and keep your camera ready: those first moments of love between siblings are truly magical!