One of my biggest concerns about having a second child has always been the fear that my first born would feel neglected. It makes sense given how much time and attention a baby requires, compared to all the things you can allow a toddler to do on their own. And toddlers can wait to have a snack, whereas World War 3 might break out if a newborn isn’t able to feed immediately.
But since I’m such a planner, I worked for months throughout my pregnancy to think of a great way to introduce the new baby to our older son. First, I debated having him come visit us at the hospital but decided that would not be ideal, because if there’s anything more painful to a small child than having a person who is not their parent bring them to the hospital where their parents are cuddling a new creature who is not them and then having to go home without parents, I’m not sure I want to find out. Therefore, that plan was nixed early on, despite people’s comments that perhaps we should bring our toddler at least once.
Next, I thought about having my son come to the hospital and possibly stay the night so he wouldn’t feel that we were abandoning him, and he could meet the baby. But kids aren’t allowed, and my son actually got sick the week I delivered, so I wouldn’t have wanted him in a hospital. And consequently, we opted to stay at the hospital for an extra day in order to give my toddler time to recover before bringing the new baby home.
Anyway, the best thing I came up with is to continue talking about the baby to my son and to make a gift basket of fun art things and toys and books for my toddler, from the baby.
Over the course of my pregnancy, my son noticed that my stomach was getting larger and I would remind him that his baby brother was in there. I kept the conversations short, however, because I knew he wouldn’t be able to understand much. If I delivered info to him in bit-sized pieces, it would be easier for him to grasp and digest, I assumed. This turned out to be exactly the case, because while I almost never used the word ‘pregnancy’ to talk to him about my growing belly (because he wouldn’t have understood, as most kids his age don’t), I did talk about a baby many times. Eventually, he started asking to see my belly and would rub it and ask about his baby brother. Towards the end of my pregnancy, he actually told me that he wanted to take the baby out! haha
“I can’t take him out; he’s in mommy’s belly,” I replied.
To which he said, “Open mommy’s belly.”
It was so cute how he was trying to make this puzzle work out in his head, and I was glad that he could understand at least some of what was happening. I just knew there was no way to explain that someone would be operating on me one day and his baby brother would then be born that way. I also didn’t want to scare him, and the important part was to ease him into the idea of a new person coming into his life.
Often, I would remind him that the baby was coming and that this baby brother was looking forward to meeting him. It allowed me to control how my son perceived his new sibling from the start. By implanting positive thoughts into his mind, it made the experience of bringing the new baby home a much better one than it could have been.
The gift basket idea was one that I was excited about, too, because I knew my son would be happy and surprised. For a week weeks, I bought things over Amazon that I thought my toddler would like: crayons, markers, stickers, trains, cars, books, cowboy hat, etc. I compiled it all in our master closet and then the weekend before my scheduled C-section, my sister and I bought fun wrapping paper and asked our mom to help wrap everything before we left for the hospital. Everything was hidden in the garage and the day we came home, I grabbed the presents from the garage and gave them to my son after he saw the baby.
He was excited to see his baby brother but still confused about how to handle a baby that small. We let him hold the baby and touch him, but it was a few more weeks until he got used to the idea of having him around and would talk to him constantly. Still though, the fact that he loved his baby brother and constantly asked if he could hold him was more than I could have asked for!
The basket was a huge hit and with a giant smile on his face, he opened everything as if it was a repeat Christmas! It was cute to see him happy and for that moment, I didn’t care if he was happy because he saw all the cool things he got or because he met a new baby or because his parents were finally home. All I knew is that I wanted to keep that smile on his face for the upcoming months, which I had been told would be difficult in terms of sibling jealousy and toddler tantrums displaying frustration over not having all the attention anymore.
I will admit that despite my efforts to bring this new baby into my son’s life with a ray of sunshine, we did have very bad days where my son’s behavior was not acceptable. However, I quickly learned that it wasn’t because he hated his brother, it was because he wanted more time with mommy. Trying to juggle breastfeeding, writing jobs, sleep, cleaning, eating, organizing, dog duties, and more, I found it hard to make time for my son without having the baby at all times. But thankfully, my mom and husband were around to help, and soon we got into a routine, where I would hand the baby to someone else for an hour just to go play with my son or read to him or take him for a walk or to Chuck E. Cheese’s.
It was still a tough task because my C-section incision was delicate for a few weeks, and I couldn’t hold my toddler (he loves being held) or carry him while I was standing, or push him or climb on things with him, or even lay with him during bedtime. But my smart little boy started to understand that mommy’s tummy hurt and he grew more patience for my situation day by day. It made me sad that he had to adjust to having a different version of me, but isn’t that what we all had to do?
Overall, these are the things I think worked in maintaining my son’s happiness and acceptance of a new baby:
Eventually, I made it a top priority to set up alone time with him as much as possible after maternity leave. When there was lots of crying, yelling, or messes to handle, I made sure to not ignore my toddler because then he would yell also in order to compete for my attention.
I tried my very best to not ignore him.
Don’t chastise them for touching the baby or baby’s things.
I encouraged interactions between my son and baby by inviting my toddler to help out with diaper changes or picking out clothes. If he ever wasn’t interested, I would at least invite him to be in the nursery with me and watch or talk to me. This is why we have so many of my toddler’s toys in the baby room now! But I love it, because it is a display of my older son’s life integrated with my newborn’s daily routines.
When people visit, I make sure my son’s not left out or feels neglected (something that’s bound to happen which is why I waited at least a week for visitors in our home after the baby arrived). Even if I have to let others play with the baby while I play with my son, I don’t mind. The baby is enjoying his cuddles, and I’m enjoying my son who is very aware of the fact that there are family members who would rather see the baby than him at certain times.
In general, I continue to make positive connections between baby and child by reminding them that one day they can play together and talk to each other. My son does knuckles and high fives and is looking forward to the day his baby brother can return them! haha
Each family is different. Just take into account your child’s needs and feelings and cater to what you feel is best. I’ve been blessed to have a good bridge between my toddler and baby thus far. The tantrums are less now that I’ve identified the need to give my toddler alone time with me so he can remember we do have a special bond that I still treasure, and he is very in tune with the baby’s needs (reminding me when it might be time to change the baby, giving him bibs, and letting me know when he’s crying or when his swing needs to be turned on). I’m just thrilled to have two boys that will one day be friends, and all I can do right now is foster the relationship with both of them individually and together to encourage sibling closeness even before the baby is mobile or can talk.