Your baby is going to be a big brother/sister. *deep breath* Whether it was a plan or a surprise, when you’re expecting again, it can be challenging to find a balance and, well—simply maintain sanity.
Doing this baby-to-big-sibling thing four times over now has taught me a lot of things. There were things I did with my first that I totally didn’t do with my fourth, and vice versa… For many different reasons. Lesson #1: every child, and therefore every parenting experience of every child, is different. THERE ARE NO RULES, PEOPLE.
That being said, however, there are things you can do with your baby to make his/her transition into big-siblinghood (and your transition into parent of another child) easier. For sake of argument, let’s just call it this…
7 skills every toddler should have
- Object identification and retrieval — If you haven’t already, start teaching the almost-big-brother/sister the names and locations of all the important things you use through the course of a day, or will use once the new baby is born. When you’re in a sleep-deprived fog and need a fresh diaper for the newborn, it can be big brother/sister’s job to get it for you. This makes him/her feel like they still have a role in this new stage of life, giving a surge of confidence and importance, and makes your life easier simultaneously.
- Mini chores — Any little job your toddler can do, let them do it! While you still have the hands free and the time to help them learn, teach simple tasks like taking laundry to the hamper, cleaning up spills, and picking up toys. Again, this will make your life SO much easier when your hands are full and you’re exhausted in the first few weeks/months with the new baby.
- Independent eating — As much as possible (depending on age and dexterity), teach your toddler to eat without assistance. Whether this means feeding more finger foods or giving more practice time with a fork and spoon (dry cheerios and sticky foods like rice are a great start!), you’ll thank yourself for doing it.
- Independent play — Though playing with your child is an essential part of bonding and development, independent play is also an important skill for every child to have. When you’re occupied with a hungry or fussy newborn (or just need to finally get dinner on the table), it is SO much easier to know your toddler can play happily by him/herself for a few minutes. To get past that clingy phase, help your child develop his/her independent play abilities by having things like a special toy box just for that purpose, gradually increased limits on time/distance (depending on how much trust you have in their abilities), and also the next point…
- Staying in a designated area — This may sound simple, but it’s a very important thing to be able to place your child in a specific area and trust that they’ll stay there. Obviously all small children should be monitored and not left completely alone, but with all of our children, we have taught them about boundaries from a young age, and have never regretted the decision. It can start with something as simple as staying on a blanket during the beginning stages of crawling (aka not going past the edges without a negative repercussion they can understand), and this can set the pace for all of childhood—when children know what to expect and where the line is, they have a much easier time with life in general—not acting out, etc. Again, EVERY CHILD IS DIFFERENT. But these are things that have worked well for all of ours.
- Self-soothing — This may sound a bit harsh at first glance, but it’s more about equipping our children than abandoning them to their own devices. Find what makes your child feel most safe, whether that’s something warm and fuzzy, space of their own, etc and teach them how to find their “happy place” when they are not so happy. We absolutely love the little life lessons from the kids’ show “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” (90’s kids, this is basically this generation’s Mr. Rogers. Every bit as awesome). Things like, “use your words,” and “when you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four.” Giving kids the tools to take control of their own emotions is something invaluable that will help them for years to come.
- Knowing their own strength — Ok, so this one can be pretty hard to properly teach. But it can be done. Much like showing a toddler “hard” and “soft” textures, they can be shown “hard” and “soft” force. Get them involved with something tactile like play-doh or kinetic sand, and have them practice being rough and being gentle. When the baby comes, you’ll be able to convey the need for “gentle,” and have far less chance of big brother/sister accidentally hurting this fragile, new thing they love so much. (If our 33-lb almost-2-year-old, whose favorite activity is to body-slam, can be the gentlest of all four siblings with his preemie little brother, I’d say almost ANY child can do this.)
Do you have kids that are close together? What skills did you find most valuable that you taught your “big sibling?”
If you want more info on how to help your baby become a big sibling, you should really just get the book on it (which happens to be written by the best person EVER)…
And sneak in some more nap time while you’re at it. Also, don’t let people condemn you if you have more than just 2 kids. You got this, mama. Cause the hardest part about having a newborn isn’t what you think.