I have now had to break the news to 3 toddlers (all my own) that they are about to be usurped by a new sibling.
And so far, so good, as far as sibling relationships go. But it is tricky terrain, preparing your toddler for a new baby. Particularly the first time around, when they are used to a life of undivided attention, and the new arrival will likely change the status quo pretty drastically for now and evermore.
Here are some of the things that have helped us along the way:
Don’t tell them too soon
9 months is a long time to build up to the arrival. Think about how often your toddler asks if you’ve arrived yet, in a 2 hour car journey. Now imagine that anticipation, magnified and stretched out across 9 tiring months.
There is a temptation to tell them early, to explain your nausea/tiredness/general first trimester mood. But I thought a negative first introduction (mummy can’t be much fun because your sibling is making me vomit every day) that early on might not be a great start. Maybe I was overthinking it, but I opted to just say that mummy had a cold / mummy was tired, and held off on the Big Reveal until the second trimester energy kicked in.
Also, I wasn’t sure I wanted to ask them to keep the information to themselves, so we waited until we were ready for everyone else to know.
That is, except for my fourth pregnancy when we accidentally blurted out the news to our three on a London side street immediately after an early 7 week scan. Then slowly realized this meant the secret was out at the school gate too…
I really couldn’t see how it would be an easy experience for my toddler, navigating the arrival of his first sibling. and in true Precious Firstborn mode, worried about the impact it would have.
Don’t worry! Siblings are really good for children. Even (especially?) for the kingpin firstborn.
Go full 80s
All I’m saying is, my newborn sibling did not arrive bearing gifts in the 80s and I wasn’t too traumatized by the experience.
There is a general accepted movement now where the newborn brings a ‘big brother/sister’ gift for the older siblings. When I parroted this as essential baby preparation my husband said rather brusquely, ‘the baby is the gift’ and after all I’m inclined to agree.
I mean a bit of special attention and gifting is a nice treat (and useful in providing some novelty amongst the early newborn chaos). So the sibling gift might work for you, but it definitely doesn’t need to be an critical part of the birth plan.
I did, however, have a few back up gifts (small things – playmobil people, colouring books/magazines) in the event that visitors arrived bearing gifts just for the baby and the toddler felt sidelined. Or for the moments I just really needed to put my feet up.
Give them chance to be independent
The arrival of our fourth baby was made easier by having a particularly independent 2 year old. She was already so confident about being one of the big kids that I think she was pretty nonplussed by the idea of passing on the mantle of youngest.
Making sure your toddler is as independent as possible – at putting on coats, washing hands etc – will help both of you with the transition.
Along a similar line: if you are aiming for any major weaning / stopping nursing / potty training / moving into big boy bed; it might be best to avoid timing this with the new baby arriving.
Get them used to waiting
Is this even possible? I don’t know, but I do think that it is big change for toddlers, to live with a new competing priority in your day. So I did try, for a month or two before the baby arrives, answering requests with ‘yes we can do that in 5 minutes’, or ‘-‘after we do x, then we can do y…’
Keep it low key
Look – lots will change for your toddler with the arrival of a new sibling, but in many ways their lives will actually remain resolutely the same. The new baby will be a curiosity, friend and potential rival – but particularly at the beginning, the baby won’t be all that exciting.
Don’t hype up the arrival too much or they will be sorely disappointed when their much-anticipated new best mate turns out to be asleep for 20 out of every 24 hours.
Try to avoid talking about the birth
Particularly for older toddlers, this one. Maybe you’re very open about these kind of facts of life in your household – congratulations, this is your moment.
For the rest of us, here’s our party line answer for the dreaded question, ‘but how does the baby come out?’: “mummy will go to the hospital and the doctors will help your baby sister be born” – factually correct if slightly vague.
This doesn’t cut it with the over 4s, by the way, so be ready for that one, along with all sorts of related questions that you’d rather not answer, especially at the checkout in Waitrose.
Don’t feel sad
Especially the first time around – but actually every time I was about to have a baby, there would be a moment when I’d look at our current set up – with one little toddler, or two or even with three – and think how perfect and cosy that moment was and how the next transition would throw it all into a spin. I can confirm that this is mostly crazy hormones. Witnessing your children form relationships with their siblings is one of my favourite parts of being a parent.