Because each of our children were a month shy of two years old when I became pregnant with their younger sibling, we've been able to have conversations at a more detailed level than we otherwise may have. While some of the specifics have been a bit fuzzy or mixed up in their young minds, the basic concept has been relatively easy for them to grasp. These are some of the ways we introduce the children to the idea of a younger sibling; as always, I look forward to your additional suggestions in the comments.
Who do you love?
Talking about the people we love is one of our primary ways of introducing siblings to the idea of Mommy and Daddy loving the new baby as well as them. These lists take various forms, including "I love...", "who do you love?", and "who loves you?".
"Mommy loves you. I love your brother. I love Daddy. I love the new baby growing in my tummy. I love Grandma and Grandpa. I love Oma and Opa. I love..."These conversations are casual, spontaneous, filled with laughter (and often tickles), and take place even when we're not expecting a new baby. They are one of our bedtime calming games and a fun way to bond while remembering loved ones both near and far. We've found the "new baby" is soon added to their own lists after hearing our lists grow to include him or her.
What will you do?
Two more casual conversations we use to introduce siblings to the idea of "life after the new baby" center on brainstorming things they can do with the baby and things they can do while the baby nurses/sleeps/etc.
"What will you do with the baby?" focuses on ways they can help care for the baby (assisting with diaper changes, for example), entertain the baby (such as singing songs or reading books to him or her), and gently show the baby love (soft touches, kisses, and so on).
"What will you do while the baby _____?" focuses more on them instead of on the baby. What can they do while the baby is nursing? They can, for example, snuggle beside me while I read to them. What can they do while the baby is sleeping? We can play board games or do puzzles together. What can they do when the baby is crying? Maybe sing quiet songs, make silly faces, or help Mommy get ready to feed the baby.
We talk about these things as they naturally arise in our day-to-day conversations, and the kids enjoy brainstorming with us. When they're done talking about it, no problem; we simply move on with our day.
Making it concrete
Interact with the baby
Both of the boys love feeling the baby move around inside of me. It gives them a chance to interact with the baby. Other interactive things they enjoy include putting their ear on my belly to "hear" the baby, assisting the midwife during our prenatal appointments, seeing the baby during ultrasounds, and speculating about what the baby is doing in there right now.
Look at the baby
While they can't see our own baby (aside from ultrasounds), looking at photos of babies in utero helps them to better understand how things work. For example, our toddler had become convinced that the baby was already drinking Mommy's milk; sitting down to look at a baby in the womb allowed me to point out the placenta, the umbilical cord, and give him a basic two-year-old-level introduction to the way baby receives nutrition while inside of me. Similarly, when the boy wanted to know how the baby got out, being able to point to the birth canal and show how the baby would move from the womb out into the world made things clearer than my initial verbal explanation had.
Our absolute favourite resource is the University of Maryland Medical Center's interactive fetal development slide. Both of the kids love seeing the baby grow bigger and smaller, bigger and smaller, over and over and over again. Personally, I just cringe at the visual of my organs being squished up towards my lungs; suddenly the heartburn and shortness of breath make complete sense.
Touch the baby
In addition to looking at photos of babies in utero, having opportunities where they can interact with real live babies has been excellent preparation. We are blessed to have many friends with little babies right now, so the toddler especially has had a great pre-introduction to the concepts of touching gently and not jabbing the baby in the eye.
Hold the baby
Finally, providing them with their own baby dolls gives them the chance to nurture their "baby" and experiment with the concepts of giving birth, nursing the baby, and caring for the baby. While girls are often given dolls automatically, boys too benefit from this opportunity to nurture a "baby" of their own, regardless of whether another little sibling is on the way. Our boys enjoy swaddling their babies, giving them "mommy's milk", putting them to sleep, carrying them in a child-sized baby carrier, and occasionally throwing them across the room or driving trucks over them.
Preparing for baby
Including children in preparations for the new baby is another way to help them feel involved with and connected to their soon-to-be sibling. Such involvement may include, for example:
- choosing a new outfit or small toy,
- offering name suggestions,
- selecting "baby's first outfit",
- setting up a nursery,
- putting together baby equipment,
- sorting through clothing,
- stocking a diaper change area, or
- painting a picture to be hung near the baby's sleep space.
Often some transitions will need to be made in preparation for the new baby. Many parents find pregnancy an opportune time to potty train, night wean, move the older sibling out of the family bed, or teach skills that will increase their independent activity. Such transitions, of course, will depend on the readiness of the individual child and the particular needs and desires of the family unit. When such transitions are undertaken in preparation for the new baby, it is preferable to make them well in advance and to avoid linking them to the new sibling. This decreases the likelihood of sibling resentment and jealousy as well as feelings of being displaced by the new baby.
With each pregnancy, we have moved the older child out of the family bed in preparation for having a new little one join us there. (Other parents choose to co-sleep with both the older child and the new baby. This is a great option that, with planning, can be done both safely and enjoyably.) This nighttime transition is done in gentle stages over the course of the pregnancy and is never framed in terms of "making room for the new baby"; likewise with other such preparatory transitions.
These types of preparations, along with a large dose of good fortune, helped ease our transition from one child to two. Our first child showed no signs of sibling jealousy, resentment, or regression upon the birth of his little brother. Whether we will have the same experience with the move from two children to three remains to be seen. So far, their excitement is encouraging! In the meantime, we will continue to prepare the boys for this new cherished member of our family while hoping for the smoothest possible transition for each of us.
How do you prepare older siblings for the arrival of a new baby?