Getting your family ready for one more

By Shawna Gamache

Don’t worry too much! Getting a sibling really is the best thing to happen to most kids – and as this essay is from my own experience, the suggestions here are mostly directed at families with a toddler when their second child is born.

Involve your older child in planning, pregnancy and birth

  • Maybe he can help you decorate the nursery, attend prenatal appointments or select some special books to welcome the new baby
  • Maybe she is old enough to attend (some or all of) the birth, attend a yoga class with you, or help you get baby clothes sorted and organized

Mention your older child’s role whenever you talk about the baby

  • Call the baby “our baby” or “your baby,” and brag within earshot about what a great big sister or brother your older child will make
  • When your older child is around, don’t talk about your concerns or reservations

Help your older child prepare for the reality of having a baby in the house

  • As you cuddle and read, mention to your older child how you will always make time to read and cuddle with her, but when baby comes she might sometimes have to wait
  • During meals, outings or  bedtime, talk about how routines might change and what kinds of things the baby will be doing throughout the day

Talk about the specific ways your child will be able to help with the baby

  • Like laying out the changing mat or getting the wipes when it’s time for a diaper change, or holding the rubber ducky and helping you to dry off baby after bath time
  • Organize supplies so your older child can find and access them. You will be amazed how helpful even the tiniest big sister or brother can be!
  • Be upfront about things your older child may not be able to do, or needs to run by you every time, like feeding the baby or lifting or carrying him or her

Build your child’s library

  • There are so many great books to help children prepare to be a big sister or brother. Find one that’s geared to your child’s age and gender. We loved I’m a Big Sister by Joanna Cole (she also wrote an I’m a Big Brother version) and This Baby by Kate Banks.
  • Children tend to also get curious about pregnancy and birth. I recommend When You Were Inside Mama, also by Joanna Cole, for fostering a loving and open conversion about pregnancy and birth while still being appropriate for younger toddlers.

Build your library, too

  • Siblings Without Rivalry by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish has great tips for helping your children work through disputes and frustrations without allowing resentments to build.
  • The Happiest Toddler on the Block by Harvey Karp has great ideas in general for positive reinforcement activities that are appropriate for one-to four-year-olds, and really helps you get into your little one’s head so you can communicate better.
  • Now that your family is growing, this is a great time to give more thought to what kind of home atmosphere you hope to create, what kinds of routines and rituals are important to you, and what kind of values will be driving your daily decisions. It’s so easy to spend the early years in survival mode, and the time before your second comes might be your only chance for a while to make some tweaks to your routine and home environment. This is a personal choice, of course, but I loved Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne.

Plan for consistency in the early weeks

  • Newborns are flexible and you might feel much more prepared this time around. But the new big brother will do a lot better time adjusting to baby if he isn’t also adjusting to a house full of relatives, a new daycare provider or a big boy bed
  • Make big changes well ahead of or after baby’s arrival, and consider setting strong boundaries on visiting hours and houseguests until your older child adjusts
  • If you will have a maternity or paternity leave from work, decide if your toddler will stay home with you during that time or will continue to attend preschool or daycare. Most parents will see many pros and cons when they weigh that decision
  • Strive for as much normalcy as you can in daily routine. Your child will probably adjust happily to an earlier dinner as long as you’re still there, to increased time away from you as long as you still get some daily one-on-ones, and those activities don’t stray too far from her normal routine

There will be struggles and changes for everyone, and possibly even a grieving period for the lives you used to have. It was very much like when I adjusted to life with my first baby, and I have found that I love the new life we’ve created with our growing family. Have fun and enjoy each other!

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