It’s fairly common for older siblings to feel slightly jealous, resentful or even angry at the arrival of a new baby, but with a little forethought, you can make this transition less stressful for everyone.
Here are some ways to help your toddler adapt to and bond with their new baby sibling.
ENCOURAGE BONDING WITH YOUR ‘LISTENING BELLY’
Just as you will start to bond with your baby even before their birth, so too can your toddler. Let your toddler know that their soon-to-arrive sibling can already hear them, even from inside your belly. This provides wonderful opportunities for interaction when you’re chatting, reading or listening to music with your toddler e.g. “Your big brother and I are just about to read Book X now, baby. You’ll be able to listen to it from inside my tummy and when you come out, we’ll be able to show you the pictures too” or “I wonder if you like this song, your big sister picked this one for us all to listen to”. You get the idea.
READ STORIES ABOUT NEW BABY SIBLINGS
There are quite a few books which have been written to help prepare toddlers for the birth of new baby siblings. We read I’m a Big Sister by Joanna Cole (who has also written a big brother version). I particularly liked this story because it explains that babies ask for what they need by crying. Once the baby had arrived, I would say to my oldest child: “I wonder if she’s asking for a feed or a sleep, what do you think?”. Assisting in this way can bring a welcome sense of responsibility for your toddler.
LOOK AT YOUR TODDLER’S BABY PHOTOS WITH THEM
I made a little book for each of my daughters a few months before their new baby sibling was expected. In it, there were photos of their hospital stay and of being kissed, cuddled and breastfed. It also included photos of both of them using all of our baby ‘equipment’ (e.g. baby capsule, sling, play mat) so that they understood that they had enjoyed these when they were babies and it would soon be our new baby’s turn.
PREPARE YOUR CHILD FOR YOUR HOSPITAL STAY
One aspect of the ‘new sibling experience’ that toddlers can find particularly difficult can be mum’s absence during the hospital stay. Here are some things you can do beforehand:
- Talk to your toddler about your family’s plans for when the baby is ready to arrive. Explain that you won’t know when your baby is ready to be born until your body tells you – it could be day or night. Explain who will look after them, where they will stay and when they can come to visit you. Perhaps you could even pack your bags together.
- Some children might be helped by a visual reminder on the fridge to mark off the days of your stay, particularly if you are expecting several days in hospital. You can include photos or drawings of who they will be with, and at what times of the day they can visit or phone you.
- If a caesarian birth is planned, explain to your toddler that you won’t be able to lift her up until your tummy muscles are strong again. Encourage your toddler to practise climbing in and out of her carseat or up into her cot in the weeks before your due date. Explain that even though you won’t be able to lift her up to hold her for a while, sitting cuddles and lying down cuddles feel just as wonderful.
By Dr Kaylene Henderson