My eldest son Oliver was 2½ years old when Alexander, his baby brother and my second baby, was born in 2012. I was advised that this age gap would mean that neither boy would remember their young lives without one another, cementing a brotherly bond for life. There are only 22 months between my own brother and I, and we’re still close today – which bodes well for my boys.
(Xander’s face being squished here, cracks me up)
However, I don’t believe there’s an ideal age gap that exists between children. My sons are 11 and 8 and I’m hoping to give them a brother or sister in the near future. Oliver in particular is desperate for a baby sibling.
Whether you’re preparing a toddler for a new baby, or an older child, transitioning from one to multiple children can be challenging, so I’m here to share my tips.
New siblings will always change the family dynamic, and although it might not feel like it to begin with, it will change for the better. Older children mature when siblings come along, learning key life skills such as empathy, resilience and the ability to share. It’s not always easy, but the early days and months can prove crucial in building positive foundations and meaningful relationships between your children. Here are my tips:
Be honest and open
Even if you deem your child too young to fully understand that a sibling is on the way, be as transparent as possible with them, chatting positively about your pregnancy and upcoming arrival. Involve your child in your pregnancy. Oliver would often speak into my tummy button as if it were a telephone, chatting to his baby brother. This meant that the new baby was familiar with his sibling’s voice, as well as my own. If they’re old enough to understand, you could even ask your child what name they might like to call the baby. Oliver’s first picks were Sophia and Panda Bear(!), so be prepared to gently decline suggestions whilst praising their imagination to avoid disappointment!
Get some useful books
Supportive books with conversation-starters and explanations will help. There are some wonderful books on the market which can help you prepare your child for their brother or sister. One of my favourites for toddlers is a picture book called Waiting for Baby by Rachel Fuller.
Prepare your child by hitting more developmental milestones
Try and potty train your child if they’re ready or on their way to being ready, and do try to move them from their crib into a child’s bed a few months before the baby arrives if possible – it could be far harder to do this once the baby is here. I became stricter with the bedtime routine before the arrival of my second child, so we had as much structure in our lives as possible. Children thrive on routine and whilst a new baby will inevitably be disruptive, keeping dinner, bath and bedtimes on track will help your child feel emotionally safe. One thing to note is that Oliver regressed with potty training and sleeping solo once Xander was born, saying that he wanted to be a baby himself again. This is common when siblings arrive, so it helps to be prepared. The more consistent the routine, the easier it will be for your child to return to normal habits and for the transition to feel smoother.
Introduce them first
When the baby is born, if possible, make your other child one of the very first to meet them. Shower your eldest child with as much attention as possible, helping them to hold the baby or plant a kiss on their cheek. etc. This will help them feel involved and less likely to feel envious, which will also encourage your child to bond with the baby. Remember that your eldest has enjoyed the limelight solo before now, so it’s understandable if they feel emotional or ‘act up’ to attract more attention. I ended up hiding and cutting my hair with kitchen scissors before visiting my baby brother in the hospital! Do keep reminding your child how loved they are and consistently show them affection to support them emotionally.
A little treat
Buy your child a gift ‘from the baby’ and encourage grandparents and close friends to do the same. It doesn’t need to be an expensive item – Oliver was gifted a teddy and toy truck (it could be a homemade gift of course, or their favourite sweets or cake). This transaction is an important moment, a gift from the baby to their sibling at a time when the baby will be showered with gifts and love from others. It will also keep the older child busy for a while too! It’s also worth stocking up on paper and pens, easy jigsaws and favourite shows on the iPad to buy you time in those early days and months when your baby is most needy.
Share the workload
Designate roles to your partner and other relatives or friends to help spread the mental and physical load of new motherhood. It takes a village to raise a baby, and our villages are becoming increasingly smaller than ever, placing greater pressure on the mother. By dividing duties such as the nursery pick-ups, or having your partner solo waking at night for your eldest whilst you tend to the baby, you can create a sustainable new family routine.
Ask for and accept help
You are not meant to do everything on your own, so please prioritise self-care. Without it,
you simply can’t look after anyone else with good mental and physical health. Eat well, stock up the freezer pre-baby, accept offers of help, sleep when the baby sleeps and as my mum says, lower your standards in those early months – it’s normal for your home to be much messier than usual. There are supportive online spaces for both mums and dads from blogs to social media groups, and online platforms such as Social Mummy, or Daddilife for fathers.
On reflection, Oliver took 6 months to appreciate that his brother was sticking around. He loved him at first sight and was gentle with him but there were a fair few tantrums in that first year, which is normal and to be expected when jealousy overwhelms. It’s a joy to see their friendship grow each day.
The gift is two-fold when you grow your family. Firstly, to see your own love multiply with each child and then to witness the love between your children too.
I’ve bought baby clothes, car seats, prams and even a baby bath from Mamas & Papas over the years, for my own children and for friends’ children too. I love their classic style and the quality of their designs – all of their products are really built to last.
Disclosure: This is a paid campaign but as always, my words are honest.
Ends March 8th 2021.