The arrival of baby #2 feels very different than the arrival of baby #1. First babies arrived after months of preparing to become parents for the first time – preparing nurseries, wondering what kind of parents you would be, wondering how your lives would change. Well, your lives changed and changed for good. You can barely remember life-pre-baby! There’s very little time to rest as you wait for baby #2 because you are so busy being a family – running around with baby #1, meeting the needs of this little person who now rules your life and your family.
And this time, along with all the joy and excitement…there’s GUILT! How will I ever love this new baby the same way I love my first baby? How can there be more love than everything-forever-always love? What will I be taking away from my first child? What am I doing? Why am I doing this? Breathe! You are preparing your heart for a most amazing gift – a gift of love, the gift of a sibling. You won’t know till the baby arrives but there’s ALWAYS enough love. It’s one of the mathematical miracles of families – love is infinite. And yet, life will change.
Your toddler/preschooler wants to know how the new baby will change her life. Routines will be different and you will be different. And of course, the baby will be very different. While you won’t know exactly how life will change, prepare your toddler/preschooler as best as possible.
• Explain what babies do – they cry when they need something and they usually have a different sleep schedule.
• Explain all the ways that babies are different from children – they eat different foods, they can’t sit up yet or move on their own, they like different toys.
• Think ahead of what your older child can do with the baby. Tell your child how and when she can hold the baby, how and when she can help feed the baby, how and when she can help change the baby, and how and when to play with the baby. Your older child wants to feel capable and important instead of always hearing “no, don’t do that”.
• Check in with your older child before feeding, changing, bathing the baby – five minutes with your older child can buy you twenty uninterrupted minutes with the baby.
• Create new one-on-one routines with your older child – a mini-story time to read a book together in the rocking chair or a special dance song everyday at 4:00. Give this time a special name and a special place. For example, name it for your older child – Daniel Time. You can even label a jar Daniel Time and fill it with pictures of favorite 10 minute activities: coloring, play dough, cloud watching, cooking. Then, let Daniel add new activities to the jar when he’s feeling “forgotten” or “neglected”.
• Be honest when you’re tired or when you’re busy. Young children can easily misinterpret other people’s emotions. If you find you’re too tired or too busy for your older child, it may be time to ask for some help or plan some down time together.
Older siblings may also regress back to baby behavior with the arrival of a baby in the house – they may want bottles, pacifiers, diapers, or baby toys long forgotten. Sometimes, this is attention-getting behavior because they see the baby receiving so much attention. That’s natural. In addition to positive age-appropriate attention, try to give your older child a vivid sense of her growth from babyhood to childhood.
• Emphasize that she was your “first baby” and not just a “big” girl or a “big” sister.
• Make a photo-book of her babyhood. Include photos of her at the hospital, getting a bath, being fed, asleep in the crib. Read her baby-book together and keep it accessible for her to review anytime she feels the need to revisit that stage.
• Create pretend opportunities with dolls, stuffed animals, baby size diapers and baby accessories.
• Find creative outlets for her to still a “baby” – in a game or a pretend situation, singing a baby song, or playing with baby toys.
With a new baby, you aren’t taking something away from your first-born. You give your child far more – the chance to love and be loved by a new person. First, your child must know that her needs will also be met, though not in the same way as the baby’s needs. And second, your child needs to know that she never leaves her babyhood behind. She carries it within her always like a precious bundle of perfect love.