Everything starts back in the belly; like every significant change in one’s life, the new addition to the family is not only a massive change for you, it’s also an enormous change for your toddler. And not necessarily a good one… But this is how you can minimize the pain and maximize the love.
Half of my clients are dealing with the painful effects of sibling rivalry, jealousy, endless fighting and bickering, and the constant negotiation for more (of everything). More love, more time, more attention, more stuff, more recognition, more acknowledgment, more, more, more… While there are always ways to make things better, I believe that nothing is easier than minimizing these feelings and behaviors as much as possible, right from the start.
If you’re reading this, I can assume that you’ve just given birth or are about to soon enough – congratulations!!! The excitement and expectation, the love, and the thrills and all the feels of having a second baby are just the same as when having the first. Still, this time, you’re also filled with doubts and perhaps even fears of how your firstborn will take it, how will you handle two, how will you manage…? We all know that the struggle is real, and these feelings are NORMAL. If you’re feeling bad or guilty for feeling these feelings – please don’t. On the contrary – allow them the air and the space that they need for you to be able to think about them with clarity and rational. Don’t try to change how you feel; this never works.
But this is not what you’re here to talk about, is it? 🙂 You’re here to talk about your little one, who will soon become your BIG ONE, and how to make sure that the relationship between the two is as enjoyable as it can be. And we’re getting there 🙂
Before I begin, I absolutely have to say that there’s no such thing as siblings without rivalry (even though the book is a good one!). While rivalry is a huge word that I don’t particularly love, all I mean is that no relationship is perfect – right? In everything I’m about to say, I am nowhere promising that they will never fight or bicker, shout or hit. What I am promising is that the level of suffering will be significantly lower than if these steps are not taken. That’s all 🙂
When Should You Tell Your Toddler?
If you’re still expecting and you haven’t started the conversation of what’s about to come – now is the best time 🙂
When I was 17 weeks pregnant with my second and was reassured (as much as possible) that everything is okay – we began preparing. My little one, Ilay, (soon to become BIG ONE!) was 3.5 years old then, and everyone told me that the wait is too long, that he doesn’t need to know so early that he won’t be able to manage this knowledge.
That’s not the case. Generally speaking – try to avoid withdrawing information out of fear that your child will not understand it. They will understand whatever they will understand, and they will remember the rest and ask about it in due time. When we, as parents, fear our children won’t understand – we raise children that don’t understand. When we trust them to understand everything we share – we raise them to trust themselves to understand whatever the world brings forth. And the world brings forth a whole lot…
What Exactly Should You Tell Your Toddler?
Now I’m going to scare you.
Connection is not built from the feeling of buying a pig in a poke. No one likes to be fooled and having to learn, later on, that the truth doesn’t exactly correspond with what was shared with him. Kids are no different. Choose honesty. Radical honesty if you’re up for it.
Here are the things my toddler expects from being a big brother:
- It’s not going to be easy
- Everyone gets to choose which responsibilities to take – but we’re all in it together, and he is an active part of our family just like Mom and Dad are
- Things WILL change
- Things WILL change for him
- Mom and Dad are here and will always be here to make everything as easy on him as possible
Now you’re probably asking yourself, “Is she crazy?? Who would like to have that sister??” and in a way you’re right 🙂
Sure – We Did Many Things BEFORE We Chose Radical Honesty
We touched my belly and felt her moving. We tried to imagine what she is doing in there, what she is thinking, and what she might want (the answer was always chocolate!). We looked for names – together! We talked about what she will need when she is out and who will get what – Ilay chose to be responsible for the pacifiers, the blankets, and the teddy bear 🙂
We spoke about her likes and dislikes, we let Ilay go absolutely wild with his imagination, and allowed him to think anything he’d like about his new sister.
The idea is to humanize her – to make her into a real human being and to have enough time to get used to this idea before she actually shows her cute little face to this world. While we’re likely to oppose concepts we don’t understand, having the freedom to make that concept into something loved and lovable is a game-changer.
The Idea of FUN
Kids are optimistic by nature – they do not need us for the pink picture. They will paint it themselves. What they do need us for is the truth that no one else will tell them. Tell your toddler that a baby is hard; that a baby means sleepless nights (for you) and less patience from you and Dad; tell your toddler that it will probably mean less time for him. He needs to know these things so that the surprise (which will still come) would not be as painful. Your toddler needs time to prepare.
The Idea of LOVE
Many parents tend to tell their children that they will love the new baby and be friends right from the start. Usually – this doesn’t, don’t, and won’t happen. As exciting it is on days one and two, by the third day, your toddler will understand that this change is not all cotton candy. If you’ve promised nothing but love, he might very much find himself wondering what’s wrong with him, why isn’t he feeling what he is supposed to feel, and growing resentful towards the new baby.
You don’t want that. You want to allow all feelings initially; to explain that love comes with time and acceptance, and while it still isn’t there – it is very much okay.
The Idea of Responsibility
Your toddler would love to help you out, support you in any way they, and fill those “big brother” shoes he’s now wearing. The trick is NEVER to force him. The trick is to let him choose and keep his autonomy as much as possible. Talk to your toddler about the various tasks and let him choose which one would be his. Bringing you clean diapers, making the bottle (if you decide to bottle feed), throwing out the dirty diapers, bringing the pacifier when baby cries, etc. Your toddler needs to know what’s about to happen.
Making him feel part, strengthening his sense of belonging, meeting his needs for meaning, appreciation, clarity, and contribution will make the connection that you want to build into a valid possibility.
The Idea of More
You must be wondering how is it even possible to love another person as much as you love your child. I know I am, and this is a beautiful and scary thought both at the same time. Your toddler might not word it this way – but he will be wondering, too. And the last thing you want to do is make him believe, think, or fear – that there isn’t enough of you.
There is enough of you. You are enough. You are the very best that you can be in every given moment, and no one can take this away from you – as long as you will believe it yourself.
Take your toddler everywhere. Let him choose the needed things for the new baby. Let him help to prepare the room for the new baby. Let your toddler buy a present for the baby – something of his own choice. And super importantly – buy a little gift from the baby to your toddler. This will definitely help him warm up towards the new little one 🙂
You Only Get One Chance to Make a First Impression
After you’ve given birth and you are expecting your toddler to come visit the two of you, your heart is bursting with so many feelings (soooo many feelings!) try not to forget – put the baby down before your toddler arrives. The last thing that you want your toddler to see FIRST is you holding the baby. Or in other, more toddler-worthy words – the last thing that you want him to see first is baby taking his spot, replacing him, leaving him behind.
Set the tone for a balanced and honest setting and relationship from the very first moment, stay attuned to your toddler’s needs as much as you are attuned to your needs and to the needs of your new baby. You’d be surprised to learn how many of these needs correspond 🙂
In the meanwhile – I’d love to meet you in my life and parenting support group on Facebook 🙂