In preparing for two-under-two, I spent a lot of time wondering/worrying/researching how to best introduce siblings for the first time. I was obsessed with any and all of the tips on how to ensure they were BFFs forever from the very start. We’re four years in to this, and so I am sharing “what I know now”. Here are some ways we have built the boy's relationship from day one. We are far from perfect, but the boys love each other fiercely. Long may that last.
Feelings of anxiety about bringing a new baby into the family are really, really normal. Every parent feels it to some degree, and shouldn't feel any shame or guilt in wondering about how to love another baby, if you'll love another baby as much as your first or or worrying about the dynamic shift in your family.
Introducing the concept of a sibling.
In the lead-up to baby being born, a simple first step in preparing is to read to your child about becoming a sibling. Magnus was less than one when I was pregnant again and we were reading to him each night. I wouldn't suggest reading about babies every single night, that may be a bit overwhelming for you all - but begin to slot in books about babies and siblings into their normal book routine.
Make sure the books are at a level they can understand. Sometimes the books can be really abstract and so are extra hard to comprehend for little siblings-to-be. Some children can’t grasp the abstract until they’re teens, so keep it simple in plain language and age appropriate. Books “like there is house in mummy’s tummy” is super sweet but quite abstract for younger children - for them find ones that use simple language, that speak to daily routines and relatable topics that the child can recognise. Pick books that have illustrations a toddler can relate to, ones that speak to everyday routines, with loads of objects and items a toddler can recognise. Here are some good examples.
So, start reading early, but don't go overboard on “see this, you’re going to be a big brother/sister, are you excited? This will be you soon” too early. No matter how exciting it is. Again, because it is quite an abstract concept to grasp for a small child. But mostly - you don’t want a toddler asking every day - is the baby coming yet? Where is my baby? Are you having the baby yet? for 35 weeks. Besides, there is no need to take away them being your only baby too soon.
I feel like there is a lot of pressure placed on the first meeting, but it is important to remember that one moment in time is not the be and end-all of this sibling relationship. This meeting can set the tone for your children's relationship with each other but it isn't the only moment in time between them.
Time and time again I read the following advice “When you introduce older siblings, make sure you’re not holding the newborn. Have it in another room, ignore baby to focus on the older sibling to decrease the likelihood of jealousy”.
The message of don't be holding the baby when it meets older baby really did not sit well with us. We are huggers, kisses, smoochers. Love is our highest value in our family and we didn’t want to send the message that there wouldn’t be enough love to go around or that the love was going to be dealt out to one child, then the next. We wanted to be clear straight away that there was always enough love.
As Jonathan brought Magnus in to meet Fenton, he took both boys in his arms for cuddles, and spoke simply about all the Big Love we have for our family and how Fenton was so lucky to have such a special boy as his big brother. There was lots of love loading on Magnus but also reinforcing - we all love each other, we have enough love.
(Let me say too, this meeting moment was interrupted by a well-meaning hospital physio who was popping in to say check in at the same time - which flustered me. So this was far from the perfect moment).
The "don't hold the baby so the big kid doesn't get jealous" is a reductive and helpful thing for parents to be told.. Jealousy for tiny people is a natural emotion. Think about a time you were jealous as an adult, how it was probably quite irrational? Then imagine a baby or a toddler. There will be moments of strain and jealousy as the dynamic shifts and it's important to acknowledge that these moments will happen. It is important as well to acknowledge that there will be unsettled feelings and sometimes regression, it’s frustrating but the only thing we found that works for us is to love bomb on this. “I know it’s sometimes hard being a big brother, and you’re frustrated” and cuddle and kiss both babes some more. We still have to have these conversations.
When the sibling is born, have a special toy for the older sibling/s, Magnus was much more interested in his new toy truck after a second or two of kissing his new baby.
Even in the newborn fog, make some special one-on-one time for the elder babes - cuddle time in bed, book reading, tickling, down on the ground time. It doesn’t have to be hours worth but should be a time where your phone is down, your newborn is down and it's pure parent and child time. If you have a co-parent/dad/mum, it is really important they focus on this time for them as well. Let them create space for one-on-one with each child. If they spend this time with your newborn, it gives you capacity to pay attention to the older child too. I know with a newborn sometimes it is hard to hand over the reins, but it's good for everyone.
Give them appropriate responsibility
Include the older siblings in conversations about the baby “big kid, do you think your little brother needs to sleep now, he sounds a bit cranky, what do you think?” “Big kid, can your brother can come and play with you”. When Fenton cried, sometimes I’d say “don’t worry, Fenton your big brother is here, everything is ok”. We used lots of words that made them seem like a team without putting too much pressure on the older sibling, just by ensuring they feel involved. If the sibling is capable, get them to “help” passing you nappies or wipes to give them a sense of sharing the “jobs”.
On the flip side of this is - don’t do too many “now yourethe big kid you need to....” because most new siblings are still little and it can put pressure on them to all of a sudden be a big kid. And they've got enough to worry about!
Don’t make baby “other”
As much as you possibly can, do all the things like breastfeeding with siblings close by, try not to do things “behind closed doors” or shrouded in mystery.
Siblings are keen on touching baby a LOT, you know, on their eyeballs. I’ve been guilty of screaming “Don’t touch the baby like that” but have really worked on (and still work on) “oh, babies are a bit fragile, not as strong as you. That is why we touch your brother here, and touch him like this”. Model this touching too. Take little hands and guide them. Here, not here.
Be kind - to you.
Importantly, give yourself grace. I’ve heard people with five-plus kids, say that the transition from one to two is the stand out hardest. If this means there is more than usual tv time or cereal for dinner each night, so be it. If this means washing is never folded, or
And start it all again tomorrow, because it's the everyday interactions that make the big difference in building great sibling relationships, not just those three minutes of baby's first introduction.