If you’re pregnant with your second child, you may be wondering what life will be like once the new baby arrives. Will you be able to handle two children at once… and the house… and work? Will your new baby’s personality rock your world? Will your older child feel neglected? Having your second (or third or fourth) child is certainly an adjustment, but we’ve pulled together our best ideas to offer you 8 easy ways to engage your older child once the new baby arrives.
1. Encourage Older Child to be a Big Helper
Changing diapers may not seem like a lot of fun, but your older child will love doing anything that requires a “big helper.” Unfortunately, this “can do” attitude doesn’t last forever, so be sure to take advantage of it while your older child is still relatively young and thinks helping is fun by offering age appropriate chores. Here are a few ways to get your helper started:
Toddlers (2-3 years old)
- Pick up toys and put them away. Set a timer and see how quickly your child can put all of their toys away. Some kids love a good competition.
- Put dirty clothes in the hamper. They can also help you load the washing machine or dryer.
- Dry the dishes and/or unload the dishwasher.
- Grab clean diapers and toss dirty diapers in the trash.
- Make their bed.
Preschoolers (4-5 years old)
- Set the table/clear the table (with supervision depending on the types of plates/cups you use).
- Load the dishwasher and/or wash dishes.
- Clean windows (but don’t be surprised if they aren’t spotless).
- Feed pets.
- Water indoor plants.
Along the same lines, encourage your older child to be a role model for their younger sibling. Ask that they show baby brother or baby sister how to do specific things around the house such as eating their food, using the potty, playing with their toys, or taking a bath. Your older child will feel a sense of pride as they take part in the process.
2. Find Ways for Older Child to Imitate Mommy and Daddy
It’s completely normal for your older child to turn into a “little mommy” or “little daddy” as they walk in your shadow and watch you parenting someone other than themselves. In fact, they were probably already imitating you long before the new baby was born, as imitation is a wonderful developmental stepping-stone towards independence.
That independence should be encouraged, especially when you already have your hands full with a newborn, but be sure to keep these things in mind:
- Be a good role model. Our children are constantly observing us, so be sure to model your best behavior (with or without baby in hand). Whether you’re cleaning the house, talking, disciplining, taking a walk, changing a diaper, feeding the baby, buckling up the kids in their car seats, or cooking dinner, be sure to emulate the behaviors you’d want to see in your children. Most children will follow your lead if you give them a good lead to follow.
- Make safety your first priority. Unfortunately, as we encourage independence, the risk of an accident increases, especially since toddlers have no sense of judgement (again, another reason to emulate safe behaviors). Therefore, with safety in mind, childproof your home to prevent as many accidents from happening as possible. Not only should you be making dangerous objects inaccessible, but be sure to talk to your older child about why they should or shouldn’t do certain things. For example, just because they’ve been helping mommy cook dinner does not mean that they are allowed to cook (or open the oven) on their own.
- Keep imitation efforts age appropriate. Not all activities or behaviors should be imitated. However, for those activities that are, be sure to stay age-appropriate (refer to chores by age above) by offering play versions of those activities. For example, rather than your child cooking at the real stove, provide a play kitchen for them to explore their culinary interests when you aren’t available to help. We also love the idea of your child pretending to be mom by feeding a baby doll, pushing a baby stroller or baby-wearing.
We are huge fans of baby-wearing, so if you’re expecting your second child, it only makes sense to offer your older child the opportunity to imitate mommy (or daddy) by doll-wearing their favorite stuffed animal or doll.
Made for children ages 3 and older, the LÍLLÉbaby® Doll Carrier line perfectly coordinates with the LÍLLÉbaby® baby carrier lines, so they can be just like you. It is the perfect way for your child to nurture their dolls and stuffed animals, and makes a great gift for a new big sister or brother.
We especially love this limited edition baby carrier specially created by LILLEbaby and The Guncles that celebrates adoption! With a fresh box of crayons and a blank sheet of paper, The Guncles created the colorful print by hand, an expression of the joy and love that adoption has brought into their lives.
Not only will your child love the bright and happy colors, but a large portion of the proceeds of the sale of this item will benefit the Independent Adoption Center (I.A.C.).
EXPLORE AND CONNECT
3. Establish New Routines
If you’re still pregnant, you might want to consider starting activities that only “big kids” can do before their new sibling arrives. For example, take your child to your prenatal appointments and talk them through what you’re doing. Your child will love listening to their baby’s heartbeat and being a part of the process.
When your new baby is born, your older child may feel as though they’ve been replaced. Reassure them that is not the case by establishing a new routine with them. Here are a few examples that we love, but feel free to create your own!
- Each time you sit down to feed the new baby, you also read books with your older child and snuggle. They might even enjoy looking through photo albums of themselves as a baby while you tell them stories. If you don’t have a free hand, get your toddler to hold a book and turn the pages while you read.
- “Pancake Saturday” (or any other meal that they might get excited about) in which your older child (or children) help you mix the batter or add fruit toppings.
- Take a walk together and make a special stop at the Little Free Library (if available). Your older child will look forward to picking out a new book each time you take a walk. Just be sure to return a book to the library during your visit.
4. Make Toys and Activities easily accessible
We’ve found that new big siblings typically like to hang close to mom during those first few weeks or months to make sure they don’t miss anything. While this is fine, we also know that mom spends a lot of time sitting while she feeds the new baby. Therefore, make toys and activities easily accessible to your big kid so they can continue playing while you are “busy.” Again, you want to encourage your older child to be independent. If they are constantly asking you to get something, you’ll wear yourself out before mid-day, and we know how little sleep you’re already operating on.
You might even think about having a special tote bag or box of activities that your big kid can do while you are sitting. Items you might want to include are: construction paper, coloring books, crayons, wipe-clean activity books, puzzles, blocks, cars and/or trains, and playing cards. A train table or activity mat located in the same room where you typically nurse the baby are also really helpful in keeping your older child entertained.
5. Play Games
On a similar note, we’ve found a number of games that our big kids enjoyed playing during those first few months of their new sibling’s life. These can either be done during all the naps that newborns seem to take, or while you’re feeding the baby and need to be sitting down.
- Puppet shows: Your big kid probably won’t object to you acting out one of their favorite stories with her stuffed animals or figurines. In fact, they may decide to get in on the action. You don’t even need a puppet theater. Puppet shows can be done over the side of the bed or the back of a chair.
- Scavenger hunt: Send the older sibling on a scavenger hunt around the house. You might say, “Find me something red (something shiny, something round, etc.).” Your big kid will love the adventure of it, plus they feel helpful and it involves minimal effort and movement on your part. It also has the potential to be a teaching exercise as you practice colors, shapes and counting. Even better, a scavenger hunt can be done while you’re completing other tasks, like cooking dinner. Win-Win!
- Play with your food: During meals, try counting (and eating) everything on their plate. “How many cheerios do you have? Let’s count.” You can also use this as an opportunity for your older child to show baby brother or sister how “big kids” eat their veggies. Who knows, you might even get them to clean their plate.
- Let’s have a picnic: Kids love picnics – real and pretend, so having a picnic (or a tea party) is a go-to exercise. Set yourself up on the couch and have your big kid bring food from their little kitchen that you can then pretend to cook and feed their dolls or stuffed animals. Alternatively, set up an indoor picnic on the floor of the playroom while your new baby sits in a bouncy seat.
- Grab bags: Take paper bags and fill them with things that your big kid wouldn’t normally play with very often. Throughout the day, grab one and have them sit on the couch with you and open it. If you want to introduce some new items, take a trip to the dollar store and buy several cheap activity sets (also a great gift idea for friends that want to buy something for the big sibling) for the first week that is always a challenge.
- Classics: Don’t forget about classic games like “I Spy” and “Simon Says,” or simple board games that can be done while sitting either at the table or on the playroom floor.
6. Enlist Help from Family and Friends
Friends and family are inevitably going to make a special visit to your home once the baby arrives. With any luck, they’ll come bearing gifts of food or offer to help you with basic household tasks such as cleaning or doing laundry. While they are there, make a point to ask these friends and family (if they don’t offer to do so on their own) to spend some extra time playing with your older child. Toddlers and preschoolers don’t typically understand why their favorite people would come to your house and NOT hang out with them, so it’s mission-critical that their needs are met as “the village” welcomes the new child.
We actually recommend that you proactively enlist help from neighbors, friends and family to come by for play dates in the weeks leading up to your due date, or to take your older child on play dates at the museum, park, etc. If your due date falls during a time in which your older child is out of school (including summer), be sure to take advantage of any learning camps that might be offered by the school or city. You can use this time to rest while your big kid is getting the attention they deserve.
7. Take Your Older Child on Regular Dates
When your second child is born, it’s important to schedule regular dates with your first child that don’t include the baby. In the beginning, this may mean a lot of Daddy/Daughter or Father/Son dates to the park. However, as you’re able to step away from home for longer periods of time, be sure to make special plans with your first born (even if that means hiring a sitter). It doesn’t have to be complicated – it can be as simple as going out for ice cream.
8. Use Technology Sparingly
It’s unrealistic to expect any parent to completely avoid screen time, especially when a new baby arrives. At the same time, you don’t want to park your older child in front of a TV or iPad for hours upon end if you have other options available. If you must use technology, try to find programs or apps that offer some educational value. We particularly love ABC Mouse, PlayKids, Endless Alphabet, and Monkey Preschool Lunchbox.
Best of luck to you as you welcome your new baby and enter a new level of parenting. The next year or so will take some adjusting, but with these tips, we hope that the transition becomes a little easier.