It’s amazing to think that in just about 5 short weeks (or less!), I will be a mother of two. It’s even more exciting to know that my firstborn (2 1/2 years old) will soon take on the very important role of big brother. T is very excited for the arrival of his baby brother, and, while I know that he will be a loving and supportive sibling, I also think that he does not quite understand how much having a new baby in the house is going to shake up our daily life. Ever since we started planning to get pregnant again, I have been thinking about how to best prepare my son (and myself) for dealing with both my pregnancy and the arrival of this new little bundle that will divide my time, limit my sleep, and change the whole dynamic of our little family.
Here are 10 things we have done to help our little guy prepare for his upcoming promotion to big brother:
1. Look at his baby photos together and tell him stories about when he was a baby.
I brought out a photo album and pointed to pictures of T when he was a baby and asked, “Who is this?” and his responses varied, from “It’s a cute baby!” to saying the name of his baby cousin, or simply “I don’t know.” He didn’t seem to believe me at first when I told him that the baby in the photos was, in fact, him!
I explained to him that he used to be a little tiny baby and how once he grew inside of my belly just like his baby brother is growing now. I told him about how mommy and daddy were so excited to meet him and about the day that he was born- how he stayed awake for hours and didn’t even want to eat because he just wanted to look up his family. I showed him pictures and videos of when he learned to roll over, when he had his first taste of baby food, and when he learned how to crawl and then walk. We talked about how it has been so exciting to watch him grow up from a little baby into a big boy and how soon he will be able to help teach his baby brother how do to those things as he grows bigger.
2. Spend time around little babies.
I have been trying to get T to notice babies everywhere we go. I point out babies napping in strollers when we go for walks, babies sitting in shopping carts at the grocery store, and babies playing on the floor at the library. I try to point out things about the babies we see, like “See the baby’s pacifier? It helps him relax.” or “Look at the baby crawling. That’s how she moves around. Be careful not to step on her!” or “That baby is asleep in the stroller. Shhh, let’s try to be very quiet when we walk by so we don’t wake him up!”
The best learning opportunities come when we get to spend time up close and personal with babies of friends or relatives. For tiny babies, we practice how to safely touch the baby’s toes or give the baby a toy to hold. By spending time with a little baby, he gets used to hearing the baby cry and sees how a diaper change or shushing and rocking can help to relax the baby. He gets familiar with the concept of breastfeeding. When we get to play with older babies, he learns about how the baby may not be able to walk or talk yet, but it can still be fun to make the baby giggle, roll a ball with the baby, or let the baby chase him around by crawling. We learn about what toys and foods are not safe to share with the baby and how to play gently so that he doesn’t hurt or scare the baby.
3. Take him along to an ultrasound appointment and let him see the baby and hear his heartbeat.
When I scheduled my 19 week appointment with my OB/GYN, I picked a time when I knew that my husband and son would be able to come with me. I had shown them the sonogram photos from previous appointments, but since I knew that this would be a longer ultrasound, I thought it would be a fun for them to experience it with me. T thought that it was so neat hear the baby’s heartbeat, and he was thrilled to get to see his baby brother’s image wriggle around on the screen. The ultrasound tech made sure to point out to him where the head, feet, and other body parts were, and printed off a picture for him to take home. After we got home, he kept asking me if he could “See baby brother on the TV,” again. He was very disappointed to learn that we don’t have the proper equipment at home to view live sonograms on our TV, but I put the printed sonogram up on the fridge where he can see it, and every time I get a new one, I show it to him and we put it up on the fridge. Seeing the pictures of baby brother growing makes him excited and he understands that it’s getting closer to the day when baby brother will be big enough to come out and meet him.
4. Read books and watch movies and shows about babies together.
There are so many great resources for kids to help teach them about babies. My son is a big fan of the PBS Kids show Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, and there is an awesome series of episodes about Daniel welcoming his baby sister into the family. They talk (and sing!) about the day the baby comes home from the hospital and how life changes after the baby joins the family. Daniel has a very sweet relationship with his parents and baby sister, and this is a great example to kids about how love grows when a baby joins the family.
There are also a lot of great books available for young kids that help them understand pregnancy and babies. Some that we have enjoyed are Waiting for Baby by Rachel Fuller, A New Baby is Coming!: A Guide for a Big Brother or Sister by Emily Menendez-Aponte & R.W. Alley, and I Am a Big Brother by Caroline Jayne Church (there is also a big sister version of this book). My 2 1/2 year old big-brother-to-be requests to read his “baby books” when it’s reading time, and he is genuinely interested and asks questions and points to things in the illustrations as we read. Waiting for Baby is a simple board book that focuses on mommy being pregnant and how he can help prepare for the baby’s arrival. A New Baby is Coming! is a longer book (we paraphrase so it keeps his attention), and it goes into more detail about the emotions that he might be feeling as he anticipates the birth of the baby and how things will change when the baby joins the family. I think of it as a What to Expect When You’re Expecting for big brothers and sisters. I Am a Big Brother is a sweet book by one of my favorite board book author/illustrators that depicts what daily life will be like after the baby comes and what some of his special new big brother duties will be. He has even started pointing to the little boy in I Am a Big Brother and saying things like, “Tommy can sing to the baby,” as he imagines himself in the place of the big brother. It melts my mommy heart!
5. Sort through his old baby things together and let him choose a special gift to give to the baby.
Since we are expecting another boy, most of his clothing and toys will consist of hand-me-downs from when T was a baby. I sat him down with me as I sorted through bins of his old baby clothes and explained that these itty bitty clothes no longer fit him, but they will be the perfect size for baby brother. He didn’t react much to the thought of passing down his onesies and swaddle blankets to the baby, but when I pulled out the bin of baby toys, the nostalgia kicked in for him. He didn’t pay any mind to the teethers and rattles, but he remembered his favorite play mat, activity table, and a few other cherished baby toys. I let him play with his old toys and asked him if he would be willing to share the toys with the baby soon and teach him how to play with them. He agreed, and I reminded him that he will have his special big boy toys that baby brother will be too little to use, so they can both use different toys and be happy.
Ever since T was a newborn, his very favorite toy has been a little lovey plush puppy blanket. He calls it his “pup pup” and he sleeps with it every night and snuggles it extra close whenever he is sick or upset. When we were at the store one day, I let him choose a special lovey that he can give to the baby. He chose a little blue elephant with a silky edge just like his pup pup. I told him that when the baby is born, he will be able to give him the present and he will be so happy to have a special lovey just like his big brother.
6. Involve him in setting up the baby’s space and let him get used to having the baby’s things in the house.
As my third trimester nesting instincts have kicked in full-force, I have recently set up the baby’s space in our bedroom with a diaper changing area, a small dresser, and the baby’s bassinet. I have sanitized all of the bottles and found a place for them in the kitchen cabinets. Within the next couple of weeks, I plan to install the infant car seat in the back seat next to T’s car seat and to set up the baby’s bouncer in the living room. Having some of the baby’s things in place has helped T get used to maneuvering around new furniture and equipment when he plays, and it has also been helping him to visualize where the baby will be when he sleeps, bathes, gets dressed, and plays. It has been helpful for me to show him where he will be able to find a clean diaper to help me out when baby is on the changing table, or how to gently rock the bassinet rather than jerking it around.
7. Practice some of his big brother duties using a newborn-sized teddy bear.
In addition to practicing proper behavior around the baby’s gear, T has been excited about learning how he will be allowed to interact with the baby. We took a newborn-sized teddy bear that he has named “Baby Brother Bear,” and we have been using it for practice. He has helped me swaddle, dress, and diaper the bear. I have been keeping the bear in the bassinet and T asks me for permission if he wants to hold it, so I can set him up on the bed or couch with a pillow and help him hold the bear like he would hold a baby. He periodically will bring the bear a toy or a pacifier or turn on lullabies for it. I remind him not to smack the bear or poke its eyes. It has been very sweet to watch my rough and tumble toddler interact with the bear so gently, and has reassured me that, when the baby replaces the bear soon, he will understand how to approach the baby carefully and responsibly so that he doesn’t hurt or scare him.
8. Encourage independence and helpfulness in his daily routines.
Before I got pregnant again, I tried to envision doing everything that I do on a daily basis while suffering from constant nausea and fatigue and periodically having to run to the bathroom to vomit. Then I imagined doing it all with a giant belly, swollen feet, and an aching back. Then I pictured doing everything with a baby in my arms or in a wrap snuggled against my chest. I thought about what I could do differently throughout the day to limit lifting, bending, and squatting during my pregnancy and in the postpartum weeks while my body heals from childbirth. I imagined T calling for me to help him while I nurse a hungry baby. I realized that a big part of making this transition easier for all of us would be to encourage T do more things independently.
As soon as I saw that plus sign on the pregnancy test, I got more strict about having T clean up all of his toys so that I don’t have to get on my hands and knees to pick things up off the floor. I started making him hold onto the handrail and climb stairs independently rather than giving in to his whining when he wanted to be carried up and down the stairs. He has been practicing dressing and undressing himself and gathering his shoes, socks, and coat when it is time to go somewhere. We are a month into potty training and he has learned how to tell me when he needs to go and how to flush the toilet and wash his hands on his own. He has even been helping me out more with daily chores- helping me load and unload the dishwasher, putting groceries away, dumping his clothes from his laundry hamper into the washing machine, and throwing away his own trash after he finishes a snack or a juice box. He is proud of himself when he helps out, and I like that he is getting in the habit of doing more things without my help now so that it doesn’t upset him in a few weeks when mommy’s hands are occupied and I won’t be able to help him with everything that I used to.
9. Incorporate more independent play and quiet time into his daily activities.
Along the same lines as teaching T to not need my help as much with his daily routines, I have been trying to get him used to not having me available as a constant playmate. I have been stepping back a bit while he plays to encourage him to entertain himself without me always being available for a tickle fight or to play hide and seek. I have also been trying to work in more quiet time activities like puzzles, books, and art so that when I need to sit down to feed the baby or put him down for a nap, T will be able to happily and quietly entertain himself without waking the baby. And I have been stocking up the DVR with episodes of his favorite shows and updating the apps on his iPad so that he will have something to do while he cozies up next to the baby and me in bed or on the couch during those first few weeks when I will be feeling a little groggy and sore.
10. Let him name the baby!
Yes, we let T choose the baby’s name! After months of deliberation, my husband and I finally narrowed our name search down to a list of 3 names that we liked, and then I presented the names to T and asked him which one he thought would be the best name for baby brother. He chose a name, and then later in the day I presented the names to him again (in a different order), and he chose the same name again. When I asked him if he was sure that this is what we wanted to name his brother, he said, “Yes! I love that name!” So, it is decided! He’s so excited about it and has been calling the baby by name, and I’m thinking that we might have to make this a tradition with any future children we may have- to let the youngest child choose the name for the baby. 🙂
Any other expectant mamas out there working on getting older kids ready for baby’s arrival? What are some ways that you have helped prepare the big brother or sister for their new sibling joining the family?
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