“Mummy, what’s wrong with your belly?!” We’d been talking about “the baby” on and off, just so our then almost 3-year-old prepped for a sibling. However, it hadn’t really registered with her. Now, she was beginning to understand… Mummy’s bulbous belly had a baby in there, and it couldn’t be sent back to the shop.
With things slowly sinking in, she convinced herself she was having a little sister. Thankfully, she was, as when I mentioned: “It could be a boy, a little brother!” she bawled for what seemed like an eternity. Faced with the prospect of potentially having a boy in the house, she then proceeded to go off the idea of being an older sibling entirely.
Some weeks later, when her dad mentioned “meeting your baby sister”, she declared, “I must fight her with a sword!” In fact, any mention of the impending baby was met with mention of “swords” and intense stabbing motions and warcries. Evidently, we needed to set about seeking tips on how to best introduce Lara to her little sibling, some of the more obvious ones are outlined below.
“Have the baby give the older child a present.” We mentioned this to her, and it seemed to be a winner – given the frequency with which she grabbed my belly and bellowed, “BRING A PRESENT FOR ME, BABY!”
“Get a heads up before the older child comes in to meet the newborn.” This is to ensure that, when they see their sibling for the first time, the new baby is in the cot, not in your arms.
Others included, “Bring your child along to prenatal checkups so they’re involved” and “Tell your toddler that, while you’re in the hospital, ‘Granddad is coming to stay and you’ll order pizza!'” I disregarded both of the previous suggestions as a) the thought of having to entertain her in a hallway for over an hour while we waited for our appointment wasn’t doing it for me, and b) there’s no chance of a granddad rocking around to order takeaway on account of Lara not having ‘active grandparents.’
Our lack of free childcare is an ongoing issue – it was a minefield of plate spinning trying to organise who was looking after Lara when I was in having Eva, but that’s a story for another day. In short, it’s not one plan fits all. Everyone’s situation is different, and we’re just muddling on the best we can with the resources we have. Therefore, below are some pointers that can easily be implemented even if you don’t have a proliferation of people around you.
• Have a ‘Baby Countdown’ calendar somewhere visible in the home. Stuff it full of treats or small toys to ease the oncoming seismic shift to the family unit. A Baby Advent Calendar, if you will. In fact, someone should start producing them…
• If your child needs to move into a new room or bed to make way for the newborn, do this ASAP before the baby’s arrival. Number One needs to know that they’re being treated like a big girl/boy and therefore getting a new room/bed all on their own merit, not to make way for Number Two… Make a fuss about bringing them to buy a new duvet cover for their new room/bed.
• Read stories about their new role. There are plenty of books widely available to help your child understand what is happening, when it’s likely to happen, and how they can help with the new baby.
• Give them jobs so they can be involved. For example, when the baby arrives home and is emitting all manner of mustard in the nappy department, ask your big boy/girl to bring you the nappy changing bag, get them to set out the mat, and so on.
• Get your child a toy, and show them how to be gentle with it. In other words, if they’re older, how to support baby’s head and always lift baby under the armpits. When we presented Lara with a baby doll, her version of “being gentle” was swinging it around by the foot before launching it skyward. Forewarned is forearmed.
• Watch the baby together (preferably when the aforementioned is calm and not screeching for food) and ask the older sibling what they see. Ask how they feel since Number Two’s arrival. Listen. You never know what you might learn about what’s going on in their little head.
• Try and arrange some alone time, even 15 minutes, with your older child every day. Read a book, just the two of you. Go to the shops, just the two of you. I know it’s difficult to find alone time at the best of times, but just 15 minutes can make all the difference. Don’t forget who’s Number One.
Also, it’s normal for the older sibling to regress upon the arrival of a new bubs. They may ask to drink from a bottle, or take a step back from toilet training. While being on all fours on the bathroom floor cleaning up more poo is the last thing you need at this precise time, this behaviour needs to be met with “love and understanding.” You can scream into a pillow later.
If anyone else has some pointers to add, we’re all ears!