Introducing Your Toddler to Their New Sibling
My New Year’s Resolution 2021: To make sure that when Little M met Baby F, it was one of the happiest, most exciting moments of her life.
How I went about introducing our toddler to her new baby sibling.
I’d been hoping to get pregnant again for a while, it had seemed like an excellent plan in October, November and December, but now, watching Little M triumphing in having all eyes on her as she danced to her Peppa Pig album, I wondered if I had made a mistake. Was it a betrayal to our first child? Was it fair on her? Shouldn’t she have us, without having to share our attention, for a little bit longer? For the next eight months, I worried about whether Little M would feel any less loved once she was no longer the only child. Would she feel pushed out? What could I do to make sure that from the minute she met her new sibling, the world would suddenly hold more fun and joy for her?
If, like me, you’ve spent the last trimester of your pregnancy fantasising about introducing your toddler to their new sibling, equal parts excited and nervous, then welcome to the ‘Second-Time Mums Club’ – it’s part and parcel of the deal. Fear not, from what I gather (and believe me, with little else to do during a global pandemic and lockdown, I spent hours on Google reading ALL about it), we’re not the only ones. In fact, it’s the same for most of us and completely normal to experience a wide range of emotions relating to this big, exciting and, let’s be honest, somewhat stressful of occasions.
I wanted to get it perfectly right – for them to lock eyes on each other and to know that, from that moment, we’d sealed the deal: They’d be friends for life – an immediate and unbreakable bond. Bish, bash, bosh.
Trouble was, we’d done all the preparing (I’ll be writing another post about this and you can check out my suggestions here) for our new arrival – ourselves and our daughter – but Little M’s response as she began to realise that things were changing, left me a little anxious. She swayed between kissing and stroking the bump one minute, to launching herself at me, bouncing upon it and saying that she didn’t want the baby/that it had to stay there, the next.
Excitement & Jealousy: Two emotions that seemed to grip her as soon as I was showing and that, to all extents and purposes, have since remained.
I took it with a pinch of salt of course, she had only recently turned two after all. It’s a tricky age irrespective; we couldn’t expect her to fully grasp the situation, let alone have a handle on her emotions. But I did want to make the moment, and the subsequent days/weeks as easy and happy as possible for her. With this in mind I spent hours scouring Pinterest looking for the best ways to make the transition as comfortable as possible for Little M.
Introducing Our Toddler To Her New Sibling
PREPARATION IS KEY!
I’ll be writing a much lengthier post on this, which might be of interest to you and will link it here. To sum it up though: Help them to become acquainted with the baby, to ‘know’ him/her and to become friends before the big day.
Can you make THE BIG MOMENT particularly memorable, exciting and special for your toddler? It’s bound to feel wondrous to an adult but think about how through this meeting you can develop positive associations with the new baby, for your toddler.
Introductions: When the time came, I think we found ourselves in a pretty good position; as ready as we could be for the moment that Little M met her little sister. We didn’t know if she would love, hate or be completely disinterested in the new baby when they met, but this is how we handled it in 5 steps.
Here’s how we did it… (You can watch a video clip here if you fancy it – it’s very rough around the edges, but it’s a little bit of what we managed to capture from the day).
Giving birth during a global pandemic and a lockdown wasn’t ideal to say the least. You can read our birth story here. Aside from Mr WMD almost missing the birth (he arrived with only 12 minutes to spare) and then him only being allowed to pre-book a one hour visit between the hours of 4pm and 8pm (not ideal when you’re wanting daddy and daughter to form their special bond too), Little M not being allowed to come to the hospital was the most disappointing part of it all. I was gutted. Yes, I wanted the family photo on the hospital bed, and yes, I had imagined seeing her look through the transparent crib with awe and wonder. It would have been just the right height. But it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, I planned for the big event to take place at home.
Little M was staying with my parents and I hadn’t seen her for 3 days. I was admitted to hospital to be induced early in the morning (which dragged and dragged) and ended up recovering on the ward after an unplanned trip to theatre. The day before the great eviction I had rearranged the lounge to allow me the room to set up a special den for Little M. This consisted of a pretty lace tepee, complete with fairy lights, feathers and flowers. Her toys were laid out nearby so this corner of the room was very much hers. This would be her special place to play, just for her. Inside I arranged her dolls and their accessories and some books about becoming a big sister that I had bought for her earlier in the pregnancy. It transformed the whole room. I knew she would absolutely love it.
(See below for links)
Remember, it doesn’t have to be anything too complicated – you’ve got enough going on – but if can you make it a little out of the ordinary, so it becomes a notable occasion, a fun adventure, then do. Maybe plan for it to happen somewhere special like a park or botanical gardens? Could someone take your eldest for a special tea or snack somewhere first? Could you take a trip to the hospital gift shop on the way to the ward? Don’t forget, whatever you plan, be mindful about the best time of day for your toddler to take this on… being tired, hungry or a normal routine (and thus wanting to be somewhere else) won’t help matters! A couple of final points to consider when setting the scene: If you think seeing Mummy in hospital will be upsetting for your child, save that first meeting for home. Toddlers can also find newborn belly buttons strange with the cord stump and clamp, so you might prefer to have your baby in a nappy and dressed.
NOTHING LIKE THE PRESENT!
A trick as old as time: Get a gift for the older child from the baby. In general (yes there’s always some controversy), this is a popular tactic and for good reason. We didn’t spend a small fortune, we didn’t need to, but it definitely helped. (You can see some of these in our YouTube link).
From us we bought:
A handmade and personalised ‘Big Sister’ badge and crown
From the baby we bought:
A ‘newborn’ doll (she came complete with hospital bracelets like baby and I so it was all very ‘real’)
A puzzle and a colouring book (I bought these at the last minute but having activities to keep Little M busy was a no-brainer that I should have thought of before).
Don’t forget to enable your toddler to give a present to their new sibling too. Ideally allow them to choose what they give and it’s a good idea to make a fuss over them when they hand it over (praising them for being such a kind person and telling them how much their new baby sister/brother loves their present). Little M bought her sister a soft pink rabbit that she chose online – such a shame that we couldn’t go out together during lockdown to really build up excitement – and we surprised Little M when she found a slightly larger version of the same cuddly in her den. The idea was that they would both take their soft toys to bed at night. I also dressed the girls in matching clothes as a surprise for Little M; she’s properly in to what she’s wearing these days and I thought it would help her to realise that the baby was not a doll and was a tiny human like her!
ROLES & RESPONSIBILITIES!
Find small ways to involve your older child in caring for their new sibling with you so that they feel part of the changes, rather than left out. You might encourage them to show the baby a toy, to fetch a nappy for you or even to soothe them. Little M sometimes gets her baby doll and changes it’s nappy whilst I’m knee-deep in a poonami. She’s on hand to pass me much needed extra wipes and feels very important, especially if I’m using my ‘oh dear me tone’. Very useful! Little M also loves to sing lullabies to Baby F, particularly ‘Rock-a-bye, Baby’ and I melt every time since around 18 months she would ask me to sing this on repeat to her every night. So, what else? I can’t tell you how helpful it is when she rushes over to Baby F when she cries to tell her “It’s OK, I’m here!” since this usually works a treat. You might have read in my #LivingArrows posts that Baby F is obsessed with Little M; her eyes follow her across the room. It’s more and more obvious each day; her face lights up, she laughs and giggles whenever Little M gives her attention. It’s soooooooo incredibly cute. She’s pretty keen to help with feeding (we had to start Baby F off with a syringe and now combi-feed) but she’s not quite got the ‘gentle touch’ required!
QUALITY TIME & ATTENTION!
I was worried that Little M would feel as if she had been replaced by the new baby; like her daddy, she loves her time in the spotlight – I didn’t want it all to go horribly wrong from the start simply because she felt threatened. First, I delayed her starting pre-school, then I tried to handle the rest with a threefold strategy of attack!
NUMBER 1: Whilst restrictions were still hanging over us, in the weeks leading up to the birth I made sure to set chunks of time aside each day for Little M to do or go somewhere ‘special’ with us. By special, it wasn’t anything out of the norm to be honest, we always do nice things together (it’s not like I just abandon her to play on her own I promise) and I don’t mean costly trips out – most places were closed anyway – but we started a new thing: ADVENTURE TIME! This was a time in the day that I would make a huge fuss of and get excited by myself, when we would do memorable things like taking a trip to a drive-through ice cream parlour, a picnic in the local fields or a treasure hunt in the garden. Both her daddy and I were working from home so naturally we had to spend time away from Little M, but this worked to my advantage since it meant that she was more keenly aware of the time that was then dedicated to her. This ‘routine’ prepared her for when I needed to explain that “After Baby F has had her milk she will nap, then we can have Mummy and Little M time,” once her sibling had arrived. She was able to cope with, and more accepting of, the fact that it was no longer possible for her to demand ALL of my time and attention, sometimes she would need to wait. SOMETIMES. Trust me, it won’t always work… they’re only little after all. We continued in this vein after the new arrival too… each day doing something a little special: Going to the wetlands or local botanical gardens, popping to the beach for an ice cream, having a tea party in a ‘den’ under a blanket stretched over the bed. Let me repeat: It’s not that we didn’t do this pre baby or that I wouldn’t have bothered, we just made a point of ‘selling’ it to Little M by talking about it excitedly between us all.
NUMBER 2: We weren’t sure of who should be holding Baby F when Little M arrived to meet her. We were hoping she would be asleep in the Moses basket so we could both welcome Little M with open arms. But what if she wasn’t? We discussed the fact that Little M has always been a daddy’s girl and had been super clingy to her daddy throughout the third trimester, so we wondered whether we should leave him free for her when she walked through the door? On the other hand, it’s always me she comes to in her times of need i.e., when she’s taken a tumble. Maybe I should be babyless? In the end, my family arrived with no warning, Little M in tow. Mr WMD had whipped out the phone to video it at the speed of light (most impressive and unlike him) whilst I was still processing the sound of the back gate opening, and there was no time to think any further about swapping. I did pass Baby F to my Mum for her first cuddle quite quickly so that I could cuddle Little M, but luckily she was content to sit on my knee in an awkward double cuddle before this. My point being: Consider putting your newborn down when your child arrives/the logistics so that you can focus your attention on your older child. They will be craving your affection and searching for signals to feel comfortable and loved.
NUMBER 3: Take it at their pace and let them guide you. Let’s get one thing straight from the start: It’s highly unlikely that it’s going to be a ‘perfect moment’. Like I said before – motherhood is unexpected and it’s definitely messy. You know this only too well I am sure. We’re working with tiny people here, what else could we possibly expect? Little M couldn’t possibly have recognised the magnitude of the occasion when she met Baby F and it took her a little while to understand that Baby F wasn’t going to be going anywhere. She of course knew what was in front of her eyes and was aware that this tiny human had come from me; I have no doubt that could sense and was feeding off everyone else’s enthusiasm too. But for her the events unfolding around her were blurry and alien. It seemed that Little M viewed Baby F as more of a temporary disruption to her natural order, than the biggest and indeed permanent change to the world she knew. So keep this in mind. Is it really so bad to let your little one decide upon how to approach their introductions? They may glance over, turn up their nose and turn on their heel towards the sandpit like Little M did for a couple of minutes. Don’t worry – they’ve got the whole of their life to get to know one another – one day you’ll look back and laugh. There will be the highlights of the day, as well as the bits that you roll your eyes at or even tear up about, you are postpartum after all. Try not to make too much of an issue of it though. Don’t try and force them to behave in a certain way, especially not to get that one photo that you are desperate for, just ride the wave that comes your direction. Little M had clearly had enough after about half an hour in the company of the baby and wanted to go back home with her grandparents. This happened for the first four days/nights that Baby F was home. I was pleased that she was keen to see us and to cuddle her sister, but with less than a moment’s notice she would want to push her sister away and create some distance. To be fair this made life a lot easier as we got back into the swing of things; I partly rejoiced but it did make me cry too. My mum and dad were of course delighted to have her stay with them, though they would have been fine with me insisting on Little M staying with us if that was what I preferred. My point of view: Parents know their own children and instinctively feel what they need… I felt like I needed to give Little M this control and let her adjust in her own way, it was her coping mechanism.
A final note… ENJOY IT FOR WHAT IT IS!
If there was ever a once in a lifetime moment, this would be it. Be prepared for the unexpected – that’s motherhood after all – and try to relax and enjoy this time together. Be present, rather than watching it all through the camera lens and focus on your babies. Sock up all the elation and every ounce of love in the room; let yourself be immersed in every smile, every giggle and all of the cooing. If someone captures it on video or takes a handful of photos then great. Don’t waste your time and energy trying to organise the perfect shot. It’s not all about ‘the gram’. To be honest you’re probably setting yourself up to fail even trying – I have no idea how so many people do manage to come out of it all with photos that look like they’ve come straight out of Vogue? Most of our photos were blurry and most of the video footage has my dad talking about cricket, or football, or dinner, or something else random, over the top of it. I look tired, sweaty and fat. I still do actually so not much has changed there. None of them are any less perfect to me though because looking at them and watching them back takes me there. I literally feel like I am right there, at that precise moment. There were those few breaths of hesitancy from Little M, when I worried they’d never get along, but then it all clicked and just like that, it was just so magical. To be honest, the thing that still stands out to me was how totally shellshocked by the fact that, in seconds, my first baby was suddenly a little girl. I’d been clinging on to her being my baby; she was still so babyish compared to many her age… at the very least she was still my toddler. But in that instant, I couldn’t even call her that. She was so big in comparison. That hurt, but I was also so proud of the amazing little lady that she was clearly becoming. It was certainly an eye-opener.
All that is left is for me to wish you GOOD LUCK on your journey
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SHARING IS CARING
Did you have a lockdown baby? What was your experience?
How did you prepare your toddler for the arrival of your new bundle of joy?
I’d love to know, comment below.
Other reads that you might be interested in – coming soon:
Preparing Your Toddler For A New Baby
Preparing Your Child For Preschool
Getting The Most Out Of Your Newborn Photoshoot