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When approaching the topic of a new sibling, children always do better when they know what’s coming, even if they have a limited understanding of time. Your little ones will know things are changing as you buy new things, you may need to move house, they may have to give up their bed/cot and mum’s body will be changing as well.
A few ways to approach this time is to be sure to talk about the changes that are occurring with your little one. Keeping it age relevant, but try to keep the balance right, you don’t want to talk about it all the time either. In the lead up to a new arrival into the family, it's recommended to keep their routine as much as possible and anticipate what their routine will be like around the time of the arrival of the baby.
Will they be starting pre-school or school, will they be toilet training, will they be transitioning to a bed? Where possible, try to minimise the amount of change that may coincide with the new arrival. This will help as they adjust to their new sibling.
A good way to think about this is to try and imagine what the world looks like to your toddler. It can be really helpful for you and them during this time to understand their feelings and how to best help them adjust during this time. Amongst all of the changes that are going on, make sure to always make time for your toddler for some one on one time. It doesn’t have to be for hours but focus on quality versus quantity to ensure they continue to feel special and important to mum and dad. This will help to prepare your little one for times where you know you will be busy with the new baby.
Feeding is a great example of a task that may be tricky initially when handling both a toddler and a newborn. Try to have snacks prepared, or a book or some toys beside you that you can use whilst feeding which will assist you in entertaining your toddler during this time.
Including your child in the process is the key. Consider bringing your toddler to one of your prenatal visits so they can hear the heartbeat of their soon to be brother or sister. Play at names, brainstorming what they think you should call the new addition. Encouraging them to pat your growing belly, sing or talk to their new brother or sister are all lovely ways to create a bond before they actually meet. If you empower them in shaping the new space for their siblings by involving them in the purchase and choice of items, they will feel included and needed as mummy’s little helper.
Once the baby is born, it’s important to try to include them wherever you can in the care of the baby. Allow them to touch the baby, show them how to be gentle and give them lots of praise for being gentle and helpful, this will give them a sense of pride and a positive association with the new baby.
For young toddlers, the idea of a baby is often too abstract to grasp. A playful way to bring it to life, in terms they understand, is with picture storybooks. There are a plethora of titles out there but some of our favourites include There’s A House Inside My Mummy by Giles Andreae—a beautiful story of a little boy waiting for his younger brother or sister to arrive. The journey is shared with humour and simple rhyming text, making it a lovely tale to introduce the idea of a soon to be sibling.
There’s Going To Be A Baby by John Burningham and Helen Oxenbury is another great story of a little boy who is adjusting to the pending arrival of his new sibling, told with humour and insight.
Another effective technique that can help unravel the mystery of this journey for your toddler is to take them through photos of their own baby days. Show your child photos from when you were pregnant to help them understand they were once in the same place. Sharing photos of them as a newborn also provides a great opportunity to explain that new babies sleep and cry a lot but they need us to love and look after them.
It is critical as the birth draws closer that you make plans for where your toddler will stay during your time in hospital. They need to feel comfortable with the carer, especially if they have never stayed overnight without you. Consider creating a small book of special family photos which they can keep with them on the night/s you’re apart. Coordinate their hospital visit as soon as possible. Greet them with open arms, if possible—your little one in the arms of dad—so they feel welcomed into the space with a familiar sense of place.
A nice idea utilised by many parents, is a special gift for your toddler from the new arrival. This ice–breaking technique will help to immediately fill your toddler with a feeling of celebration, reinforcing the notion that they still hold a special place in your extended family. Once home, it is incredibly important to involve your toddler in the daily care of the new little one so they feel important and included. Ensure you also set aside some special one-on-one time when your new arrival is sleeping to keep your relationship a central focus.
Sibling rivalry is not unusual in families. We are all individuals and have things that are unique to each of us and sometimes that can cause friction in a family. Sibling rivalry in young children however, can look a little different, it might be the way they interact with the new baby.
Things that seem like they are trying to help the baby like patting or holding their hand, but they might do this a little harder than you’ve shown them previously. You might also start to see a change in their behaviour when you are attending to the baby, seeming as though you are giving more attention to the baby than your toddler. Try to be relaxed and allow them to interact and build their connection as siblings and try not to worry too much about noise, your new baby will be very familiar to the sound of their older sibling.
You may not be able to avoid sibling rivalry altogether but you can create an environment that is calm, understanding and accepting. It’s important to model behaviour that you would like to see between your children. This includes your tone of voice, how you speak with each other and ensuring you always get down to their level to talk to your toddler.
Children can feel very left out when a new baby arrives, it's often at a time when they are making sense of the world around them and understanding their place in it. Therefore, it can be confusing to see a new baby arrive and their whole world is turned upside down, understanding their world is essential. On the other hand, some children transition very easily and embrace all the changes with the new arrival. Children’s temperaments are very different and individual, so as you know your child best, think about what extra support they might need from you during this time.
Remember that while you may be concerned about your toddler feeling displaced by the new addition, if you listen to their feelings and support them through the fluctuating stages of delight, jealousy or confusion, your children will form a special bond that will be a delight to watch as they both grow.
This article was written by Purebaby and Karen Willcocks from Karitane, in conjunction with Season two, episode 8 of Purebaby’s podcast, Pure Parenthood.
To learn more about Karitane, visit their website.
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