Before the baby was born I was really quite worried about how the Toddler would take the arrival of a little sister. I had read all sorts of horror stories, including toddlers hurting the new baby, taking developmental steps backwards and even rejecting their mother in favour of Daddy as a protest. I tried to do anything and everything I could to reassure him he was loved and not to cause him to attach any negative associations to the baby unnecessarily.
This is what we did:
* We rehearsed the various scenarios for when I went into labour with the various babysitters, to make sure he felt happy with them and that his stay with them was not something new and scary, then followed by a baby sister.
* If I was unable to do something he wanted me to do (like play horsey or pick him up) while heavily pregnant, I gave a reason that was not ‘because of the baby’ – like ‘because it hurts mummy’s back’.
* The baby got him a present.
* We tried to make sure we gave him lots and lots of cuddles and attention in between looking after the baby. We also assured him as often as possible of how much we love him.
So far, he is a very kind and considerate older brother. About half the time, the baby makes it into his roll call of people-in-the-car or people-at-the-table – “Mummy! Daddy! S! A!” – and he gets very excited when she sneezes or hiccups. He is especially pleased that she is awake a bit more these days and does something that looks like playing. This morning I put her in her bouncy chair and left the room for a moment to get the Toddler’s juice cup, only to find on my return that the Toddler had helpfully moved the arch attached to the chair up so she could see and attached dangly toys to it for her to play with. Sadly, the Baby is not yet able to properly appreciate his efforts by swiping at them, but wll done to him for trying.
My favourite, heart melting moment was a few weeks back at Gran’s house. I had propped the baby up with the feeding cushion so she could have a look around. The Toddler came over to us and seemed very happy to find her there. He crouched down and reached out to her with both arms, saying: “Mummy, baby pakken? [pick up baby?] Baby hug?”
Of course, it is not always this harmonious between the two of them. Of late, the Toddler has started to notice the draw backs of having the Baby around all the time. In the beginning, he would say: “Oh no! Baby huilen! [baby cry] Mama, baby pakken! [Mummy, pick up baby!” I was moved that he was so concerned about her distress that he would come and fetch me to help her straight away. He would also go over and pull away all her covers, to facilitate me picking her up. Or he would bring her a toy car to cheer her up, and if that didn’t help, he would toddle off to get a different toy car, as clearly it must have been the wrong car.
Now, however, his exclamations of “Oh dear, baby huilen” seem a little more anxious on his own behalf. I think there is a tinge of ‘It is annoying me Mummy make it stop.’ Or even: ‘this means you will need to give her attention instead of me and I am not pleased.’ Once, the Toddler had banged his head and was wailing and stretching his arms out to me for a hug. Unfortunately, I was feeding the baby at the time. This caused more distress and I finally distinguished between sobs: “No, not baby. Baby liggen. [Baby lie down].”
Very occasionally, if the Baby’s crying happens at just the wrong point of his night, or if he is sleeping fitfully anyway for other reasons, she wakes him up. He joins her with crying of his own. When we go in to him we find him lying in bed, awake but still sleep-drunk. In a small sad voice he says: “Baby huilen.”