In some ways, the birth of a sibling is the end of the world for your toddler, especially as they know it. Your first-born will now have to compete for your attention, will see you caring for another child, singing and reading to someone else, etc; and that is hard. We’ve all heard stories of kids asking to ‘return’ the baby to the hospital after a few days. One friend told me the story of her 3 year-old daughter packing a suitcase for the new baby and leaving it at the door. She was ready to take action! It’s impossible to predict how your child will react, but there are some things you can do to help prepare your little one and hopefully avoid the apocalypse – this is a happy occasion after all!
1. Start Early
As soon as we knew we were expecting, we starting talking to our son about his new sibling, then sister once we knew it was a girl. This gave him a nice long runway to get used to the idea. As my tummy grew, he would help me feel for movement and we started practicing how to be ‘gentle to sister’ right away.
We also got a book called I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole that went into rotation of our nightly story time. There were times he would reject it, “I don’t want brother”, and I would just put it down and move on, but overall it started to familiarize him with some key concepts.
2. Include him or her in Preparations
When it came time to start pulling the nursery together, I once again enlisted my toddler’s help. At baby stores I would ask his opinion – “which pillow would sister like?” We also picked some of his toys and books that he had outgrown to give to his sister. Even though a few of the things he had picked he eventually decided to take back “this not sisters, this Sean’s”, I think it still helped to understand that he’ll need to share with her. He loved going into sisters room often and making sure everything was in order.
3. Remind him of his own Journey
We spent a fair amount of time looking at his newborn pictures. I’m not 100% certain that he fully understood that those were pictures of him (he only recently turned two) but he was very interested in the photos. I thought it would be good to remind him how much love and attention he received as a little baby so he wouldn’t feel jealous of his new sister. This is something we’re still doing during this first week of having the baby hone, to make sure he feels special.
4. Make it as Fun as Possible
For us, my son went to stay with my parents for the time I was in labor and recovering at the hospital. He loves Grandma and Grandpa, but had never spent this long away from us, so I wasn’t sure how he would do, but he did great! He had so much fun I was afraid he wouldn’t want to come home! They took him to some fun places, and know how to be perfectly silly with him, but there were also a few things we did that worked out well:
To make sure he wouldn’t miss home:
- Packed a few of his favorite toys
- Packed some his favorite foods
- Packed his blanket and pillow
- Recreated the bedtime routine including his 30mins of Mickey Mouse’s Clubhouse (this is the only tv he watches in a day)
To make sure he knew we were thinking of him:
- Bought a couple new toys from Mommy and Daddy for him to open when he arrived at Grandma and Grandpa’s house
- A ‘big boy’ puzzle fit for a big brother
- New coloring book
- New stickers
- Customized Book – Sean the Great he loved this – I found it on the Hallmark website and you can customize with your child’s name and likeness, there are a few options to choose from. Since he has been home I’ve probably read the book to him a dozen times already.
- I also bought him a gift ‘from sister’ that I wrapped and packed in my hospital bag – we gave it to him when he came to visit us. This was a huge hit and I highly recommend it. Not only do these little things help him associate his sister’s birth as a positive experience, it also just makes him feel included. The report from my folks was that he kept repeating that the toy was ‘from sister’ and loved playing with it!
5. Don’t let his whole World Change
To the extent possible, keep things unchanged. If you had special activities, games or jokes, try to keep doing them. In my case, we made sure his bedtime routine was unaffected. After dinner he has a bath, pajamas, then comes downstairs for an episode of Mickey’s Clubhouse and his milk. I bring him up and read him a couple books, then switch with Daddy who gets in him his crib and spends a few minutes with him. This way, our son still gets his special time with each of us at the end of the day.
Now, I foresee that when I return to work this may change, and certainly in time we’ll need to establish a bedtime routine for our daughter as well – but for now at least it seems we’ve been able to avoid the end of the world.