When I had my second baby I had heard three things about smoothing the transition for my older son:
1. Don’t have the baby in your arms when your older child visits in hospital
2. Get him a present from the baby, and
3. Have a special basket of toys nearby just for feeds to keep him busy.
It seemed reasonable and that, my friends, was the full extent of my preparation to becoming a mum of two!
I am now a mum of four boys and a parenting educator specialising in this transition from one to two kids, and here is what I want all parents expecting number two to know:
1. It is better not to be holding the baby for the first meeting (but it’s not why you think it may be)
It is probably better not to have your new baby in your arms when your older child comes into the hospital room but not because it will make your toddler jealous to see the baby with mum.
It is because our older child has just had their world rocked and is wondering “do you have enough love for me AND the baby?” and we want our arms and body open and ready to meet our older child and say with our actions…
“You may be wondering if I have enough love for you AND the baby and my answer is an unequivocal YES!”
2. The present is not the game-changer
As clichéd as it sounds, the real present is your presence. If you are going to buy a present my advice is to make it from you, not the baby as many two and three-year-olds are pretty quick to work out that their tiny baby brother or sister was not on Amazon from the womb.
Our little kids have just had their world ROCKED by a new baby. A present may be nice for a moment, but it’s that connection in the lead-up and afterwards with both parents is the gift that will see your child feeling much more secure when the baby comes home.
Connection with under-fives is more physical than verbal. Lots of hugs, delight, fist pumps and special time will make your child feel secure in your love.
3. The basket of toys doesn’t work
Apart from the practical side of this strategy. (Ummmm anyone met a newborn willing to ‘wait’ for mum to get down the special box of toys and set up a busy toddler to play independently when ready for a feed?) Stressful!
Distraction won’t help your older child process this big change. They need connection, boundaries and a parent who is willing to welcome big feelings. It might be better to invest in getting some photos printed out of when your older child was a baby and at feed time saying: “I am just about to feed your sister, would you like to sit next to me and see a photo of when you were a baby and you used to feed like this?”
Connection over distraction will provide the foundation for your child to move through this transition supported, loved and secure.