And then there were two
Sharlene Poole shares her advice for managing with a second little person in the mix.
Adjusting to the arrival of baby number two, or in some cases more when multiples are concerned, is always a big step in parenting. It’s not just that it is so much busier, you are also learning how to share your love and time with two children: a new baby who has immediate needs and a toddler or pre-schooler who is used to their routine as a singleton and has had little experience in sharing their day at home with anyone else, let alone sharing their mum and dad. Over time, of course, we do adjust and adapt – it becomes second nature for the family, but this is often not without some challenges along the way!
Older siblings do love their new sister or brother. With some it is instantaneous, they want to be part of everything you do with the baby, sometimes to the point of it being a bit tricky as you seem to struggle to have any one-on-one time with your newborn! Others, particularly in the case where the age gap is quite small, often struggle with sharing the attention – having to wait while you feed, change, settle and bond with the new baby. Suddenly, they do not have 100 per cent of their mum or dad’s attention, they have to share and this can be quite challenging if your first-born is too young to understand reasoning and waiting for turns!
Some families and cultures within New Zealand, and indeed around the world, do not have the same type of adjustment issues. This is because they receive support from extended family, generally from the grandparents.
New parents need support – not just having another pair of hands to help with meals or holding the newborn baby while you rest – but loving and distracting the new big sister or brother throughout the day so they feel less confused and, in some cases, emotional.
Having witnessed how many cultures handle this phase leads me to believe that it is essential we are prepared, both in day-to-day practicalities, but also in knowledge. It can be so much better if you are organised and plan ahead where possible.
Some of us are great with time, but many need to plan to have some kind of routine that will help us cope with everything involved in the new larger family. Being organised, I believe, is the best strategy when you are home alone without help. That means thinking ahead about both children’s needs and planning how you can be organised, especially when sleep deprived or recovering from the birth.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Being Superwoman is not necessary as there are many people in our community who are there to help. Ask friends, your midwife, Plunket nurse, church group or doctor if they have any suggestions.
- I suggest cutting back on some of the activities you usually have on in the week with your older child. While it’s important for them to have some familiarity, it is also best for all that you aren’t struggling with trying to keep up with the life you had before, as this is the new family now.
- Pick the key activities you would like to do, temporarily stop other activities or change your routine slightly to make it more suitable for all of you. Taking your toddler out first thing in the morning isn’t ideal when you have a newborn, so mix it up if you can.
- Plan ahead: set up an activity that will help occupy your toddler while you are feeding or settling your baby. Choose something that won’t require your physical assistance, unless it is reading books while sitting next to you on the sofa. I like to think about an activity that has a point of difference, meaning that it isn’t just the same old toys they play with each day dumped on the floor. Try setting up in another room or in another way that creates a point of difference and interest.
- Train sets, playdough or safe outside play are activities that require little hands-on help from you and then you can feed your baby nearby if possible.
- Explain what is happening to your older child. Tell them you’re about to feed or settle the baby and that you’ll be able to finish playing that game with them afterwards.
- Distraction is a vital tool when caring for children. Children of all ages need to be distracted from some behaviour instead of being told off or ignored.
Be careful not to say ‘no’ too much when an older child is investigating their new brother or sister
- Include your older child as much as you can, they love helping and being involved with nappy changing, bathing and cuddle time.
- Be careful not to say ‘no’ too much when an older child is exploring and investigating their new sister or brother. Use a lot of praise and softer words during this process so they feel special and grown-up, instead of scared or upset by your reaction. For example: ‘Good boy, wow, you have such gentle hands’ (placing your hand over theirs if they are being a
- little rough).
- Learn some effective behaviour management skills before your new baby arrives or once you have time after they’re born. It’s great to have these up your sleeve when words and distraction are not enough.
- Giving choices is a great tool. They love being the one who makes the decision most of the time. Let them decide what they can do, but ensure both choices are what you would like them to do. ‘If you would like to come into the room while Mummy is settling Chloe you need to be quiet. Do you want to come in, or would you like to play with these blocks and you can show me what you’ve done when I come back? See if you can make a tower while I am settling Chloe.’
- It is a blessing to have the gift of more than one child and it just takes a good amount of patience and support to assist you along the way. Then, before you know it, they are running around together making you very proud parents!
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