So I thought about writing this post with the intent of really laying out a step by step guide to planning the first meet and greet, but upon further planning I realized it’s so much more then that! I think the first meet IS important, but laying the foundation for a respectful sibling relationship just might be more beneficial! As a mama of three, I fondly remember my toddler(s) coming to meet the new baby, and I wanted to share a few of my tips for successful integration into the family dynamic!
1. Make the 1st visit about reconnecting mom and toddler
As new parents, we are so excited for our little ones to meet their new sibling that we forget how much our toddler is missing us! So when you are planning the introduction, put the focus on reconnecting mom with the toddler. The toddler is missing mama, and may be worried about her and how the delivery of the baby went, I know my daughter was very concerned about my wellbeing. When you are reunited, first offer a hug from mama for the toddler, and ensure meaningful connection prior to introducing the baby. We want the toddler to feel secure in the attachment with mom and this will help decrease any initial feelings of jealousy. While mama has spent 9 months connecting with the growing baby, this new addition is essentially a complete stranger to your toddler!
2. Connect Through Play
As we know, toddlers, and children both benefit endlessly through play, it’s how they learn, make sense of their surroundings and of course brain development. Play helps children reduce anxiety and stress and it helps improve emotional resilience. Through play children are able to achieve sensory input, burn off that endless energy and are more adaptable to change. And we know that bringing home a new baby is a big change! Free play is so important for children to allow their brain to build new pathways as they learn to navigate and adapt to their environment. Keeping that in mind, playing with your toddler and baby can be challenging at times. I always found that having the baby near while the toddler was playing was beneficial for both of them. We would talk about toys that are safe for baby, and more importantly NOT safe for baby. Sometimes playing pretend with dolls was an effective way to help the toddler understand the needs of baby, and how to help care for the baby. The baby always loved the stimulation of hearing and watching his siblings play!
The most important take away from this portion on play is to make sure you make time during the day for one on one play with your toddler. Especially when you are adjusting to life as an expanded family. 5-10 minute increments during the day can go along with offering meaningful connection with your toddler. I always recommend toddler led play, so asking your toddler what they would like to do. I also found this was effective when I was nursing the baby and saying “Hey P, what game should we play when L naps?” And sometimes he would suggest blocks. So I would request that he locate the blocks he had in mind and when the baby was asleep we would begin to build together, what he had in mind. It can be tricky to juggle at first, especially when mama is so tired!
3. Identify Emotions
Having a new baby around can be a great teachable moment for you toddler. Talking about the various reasons why baby cries and what baby might be feeling can help your toddler start to gain self awareness and ultimately fosters communication. It’s never too early to start helping your toddler understand empathy, and what a perfect opportunity when you have a baby around, who probably cries often!
For example, baby will cry when baby is hungry. This is a great opportunity to talk about how baby is just learning about what it feels like to have an empty tummy and experience those hunger pangs. I would often say, “P, do you know what it feels like to be hungry? Does it make you feel sad or grumpy?” This helps him have empathy towards his baby brother for crying, and (usually) interrupting out play time. When he has insight into the needs that other have, and how they communicate those, he is less likely to experience negative feelings.
(Of course those negative emotions do still come up for toddlers, because they don’t yet lack the brain development to regulate emotions, but having insight is a great start!)
4. Fill Their Bucket
I absolutely love this book Have you Filled A Bucket Today? For helping kids understand self control, resilience and forgiveness. Most children can relate to having a toy bucket and filling with sand, or rocks, or toys, and also the negative emotions that can come with having that bucket spilled of it’s contents. I love how it helps children understand and communicate what makes them feel like their bucket is full, and understanding that different people have different preferences, but ultimately a smile, and a kind gesture never goes unnoticed. I love to tie into baby crying with a bucket that could use topping up. Sometimes baby needs a snuggle, or a comfort item, or to just feel closer to a loved one, and this also becomes a great teachable moment for your toddler to understand ways to help fill the bucket. I also like this book for helping the toddler identify what they might need to have their bucket filled, you’ll be surprised how often a hug or connection is just what’s needed to help fill that bucket! Highly recommend this book, I think it’s great for adults as well!
5. Ask For Help
Let me just say that again, ASK FOR HELP!! I know how hard this can be, but this really is the best time to lean on your village for support. I know as a mom with multiples, struggling to meet everyone’s needs can be very overwhelming. I found going from one baby to two was the hardest transition for me as a mother, and looking back I wished that I had asked for more help. Try to switch it up when seeking help, sometimes that looks like help with your toddler, and other times it might be help/care for both children or just the new baby so you can connect with your toddler. What ever that looks like, we need our villages to help raise our babies. I know times are especially uncertain during the pandemic, but please try to get creative. Communicate with your partner how you are feeling, and lean on them for support. Don’t feel bad for screen time! Please, make time for yourself, just like the empty bucket, the saying goes “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. As a mama of three I know that for sure!!
I decided to leave the sleep portion out of this, because it really is individual for each family. Some families are bed sharing with the toddler and baby is in the bassinet, some are having toddler in a crib and bed sharing with baby, and there may be 100 other variations. So please if you have questions about sleep and juggling multiples, I am here for you!! I have had many nights solo parenting 1,2 and then 3 littles on my own, so I have been there, and I am here for you to troubleshoot or to vent!