Introducing your new baby to its older brothers and sisters can be a balancing act fraught with possibilities for upset. This can be even more of a shock when the older sibling was previously an only child. As a second-time mum having been through the challenge myself over the past month, I have experimented with a few ideas of my own on how to reduce the disruption and disappointment that many older siblings experience.
The First Meeting
First impressions count for a lot where children are concerned. I had been told by my antenatal class teacher that it was important to ensure that when your older child first met the baby, Mummy shouldn't be holding the baby at the moment of their arrival. This is a good way to reduce the possibility of jealousy at that first meeting.
I also felt strongly that when our elder daughter first met her baby sister, that it should be just the four of us - no other family members - to make sure that there was no feeling of 'them' and 'us'. When we introduced the two girls to one another, there were big smiles - a unique family moment to treasure forever.
Young children thrive with a routine so it's important not to abandon their routine when your new baby arrives.
When you have your first child you have time to find a routine that works for you. With a second, or more, your options are more limited; you still have to wake up to attend your older children, to take them to nursery or school, feed them and bathe them, but now you also have to look after the baby. While it may seem a struggle, it is important to keep at least some of the daily routine such as meal times, bath times and bed times so that your older child can gain comfort from the normality of their days.
For the first few weeks, we ensured that our older daughter still attended nursery as usual so that it was clear to her that even though a baby had come into our lives, life would go on as normal.
In the weeks leading up to the birth of my second child, I spent a lot of time explaining to my nearly three-year-old what was about to happen as a way of demystifying sibling-hood. I warned her that Mummy might have to go to hospital and that there would be a new baby who would most likely eat, sleep and cry. I felt like my words were falling on deaf ears and that the concept was too abstract for my daughter to understand. Now, when she quotes my own words back to me (about the eating, sleeping and crying mainly!) I realise that she was taking everything on board so it was worth it.
It is not unusual to offer your older child a present 'from the baby' as a form of peace offering. I stock-piled a few small gifts to whip out when we felt that our elder daughter wasn't getting enough attention, or when our baby was being showered with presents herself. My top tip is to reserve a present for later - I am warned that is is quite common for sibling jealousy to kick in a month or two after the baby is born.
Involvement & Trust
I have really enjoyed getting my older daughter involved with the care of her older sister. Giving her small jobs such as putting the babygrows away or preparing a nappy for use gives the older child a sense of responsibility and pride. The delegation of small tasks such as helping dry the baby at bathtime or brush its hair afterwards is a good way of teaching a toddler or preschooler how gentle and careful you have to be around a baby.
Make them Proud
Being a big sister or brother should be something you can be proud of. We bought our daughter a clichéd "I'm the Big Sister" t-shirt which she absolutely loves.
Feeding a newborn can take up a large proportion of your day; it is also the time at which you are closest to your baby and when an older child may feel most jealous. During these times it is difficult to respond to the demands of a toddler or older child. One of the best tips I was given was to ensure that I had a cupboard full of healthy snacks to offer to my older child when it was time for me to feed the baby - this makes feeding time an all-inclusive activity and nobody feels left out.