While talking to the 'baby in mommy's tummy' is one way for your older child to bond with her brother- or sister-to-be, the truth is, bringing your little bundle home will drastically change the dynamic in your household -- and older siblings may have a difficult time transitioning from their current role in the family, to that of "big brother" or "big sister" -- especially if they have been your one and only. Toddlers will also be confounded by their emotions, which are often hard for them to express. On one hand, they may be thrilled to have a new baby around, but on the other, they may long for your undivided attention and wish the baby would only be around on a limited basis. But the good news is, there are plenty of ways to prepare your child for the treasured experience of being an older sibling -- and there are many ways to facilitate their growth and integrity on a daily basis as they evolve in this relationship. Here are five tips on preparing older siblings for baby's homecoming. I use all of these tips as the mother of a 4 month-old and a 3 year-old!
1. Encourage the Role of “Big Helper”
Our 3 year-old daughter is the “best big sister in the whole world” — a title she proudly announces regularly. Enabling your older child to help with the daily tasks of caring for baby will both empower her and make her feel special and included. We gave our daughter a piggy bank and every time she helps us out with her baby brother (to a rational extent): stacking clean diapers in a basket, matching the baby socks in the laundry, reading a book to her brother during tummy time, we give her a quarter for her bank. When she saves up enough money, she may buy a toy. Of course, sometimes children should just pitch in without there being a ‘reward,’ but enabling them to earn something once in a while is a fun way for them to be a “big helper.” After this system is established, nine times out of ten, your child will offer to help because she knows it’s the right thing to do… and maybe once in a while she’ll do it for the quarter!
2. Involve and Engage Your Child on a Level He Can Understand
Depending on your child’s maturity level, you can involve him in many of the experiences you are sharing with your baby. One rule of thumb: try not to ever shun your older child by saying things such as, “Not now, I’m with the baby,” or they will grow to resent the baby for taking your time away from them. Instead, try to engage your child in the process with helpful tools such as this crafty DIY No-Sew Doll Carrier, which will allow your little one to cuddle up to a treasured doll or stuffed toy while you are babywearing also. This organic sleepy bear also promotes joint bonding sessions, and this Jill doll and Moses basket set will make your older child feel like she has a purpose and something to take care of while you’re busy with baby as well.
3. Foster Your Toddler’s Own Interests and Activities
Babies and the care they require can be all-consuming, so it’s important to carve out and maintain a sacred niche for your older child that is exclusively hers. Get her a musical instrument (our daughter wanted to learn to play guitar), or sign her up for dance, sports, or art classes depending on her interests. Of course, if your child is already in school, that is a great diversion and something exclusively hers, but if she is at home with you and the baby all day, finding time to sit and do crafts or play games where your focus is on her will make her feel special and secure.
4. Schedule One on One time with Your Toddler
The photo above was taken when my brother took my daughter to the park for some one on one time right after my son was born. Doesn’t she look positively thrilled to be out and about on her own, the sole focus of attention? My husband and I regularly schedule outings with our eldest while one of us takes care of the baby. Even if it’s as simple as sitting down together to enjoy a muffin at the corner bakery, or taking a trip to the library, your older child will cherish one on one time spent with her parents, sans baby. Here are some great ways to get out and enjoy nature with your toddler.
5. Hit the Books
Speak your tot’s language by reading him meaningful bedtime stories on the topic of bringing home baby. Two of our favorite books on baby’s homecoming are: What Baby Needs and Baby on the Way, both by Dr. William Sears M.D, Martha Sears R.N. and Christie Watts Kelly. My daughter loved reading these books while I was pregnant with her brother, and they really helped her achieve an understanding of what was to come in our household and our lives. Reading these ‘stories’ also makes a very complex topic more relatable for young children.
An additional option: You may want to use a birthing doll to help your child understand his baby sibling’s birth and to learn about why/how mommy is breastfeeding.