As I've mentioned here in the past, my wife and I are preparing for the arrival of our second child. Our first, 22-month-old Sadie, has watched on with half unbridled curiosity, half cynical enthusiasm for what is about to come. Insofar as a two-year old can comprehend the gravity and nature of what's growing in mama's belly (lord knows I barely can), Sadie's been quite the stoic accepter of inevitability.
My wife and I have gone through just about every idea possible to help get Sadie prepped for our impending arrival, so in the interest of providing an easy-to-follow guide that's not in a million pieces, I've attempted to shed light on the key elements of the toddler preparation plan. What will follow after baby no. 2's birth, who knows, but at least we can say that we did just about everything under the sun to get little Sadie ready to welcome her little sibling home with open arms (and not a smack to the face).
Talk about it early, talk about it often. Your toddler may not want to talk about it all the time, but instigate conversation with her as a means to getting feelings out in the open. Talk about what's happening, what it means, who will be joining the family, and how much love you have. Seriously, don't forget about the love. There's so much love to go around! But if she doesn't want to go there, don't go there - she'll want to talk about it eventually.
Pump up the responsibility of being a big sib. It's a big deal being a big sister or brother! The responsibility! The mentoring opportunities! How else will baby figure out how to throw a tantrum? Or climb the stairs earlier than is actually humanly safe? Being a big sister or brother is a huge responsibility, and letting them know that will give them opportunity to feel proud of themselves when they act like the big kid.
Read books about being a big sister / big brother. We've been doing this for only a few weeks, but we've already seen how much Sadie has loved getting into the big sister role. Our personal fave is Big Sisters are the Best by Fran Manushkin.
When kicks begin, have her feel them. When she can begin interacting with her little brother or sister, let her. She'll get a kick (ok fine, pun intended) out of what's in mama's belly, and she can even start singing to the baby, or patting the baby, just like she'll do when baby has arrived.
Gift her a baby doll set. We gave Sadie a baby doll that came with a bib, bottle, and pacifier. Sadie's loved spending mornings with her doll making sure her little one has enough to eat, that she doesn't spill too much on the floor, and that her pacifier is always within arm's reach. As she's done so, we've told her about how she was when she was a baby (tempering the honesty, of course, considering how little she - and her parents - slept, and how much she cried), and about what it'll be like to care for the new baby after she's born.
Show your toddler some pictures of what she looked like in the womb. Again, we wanted to make sure Sadie knew what she used to be like when she was a baby - including the fact that she also used to be in mama's tummy. Giving her a simple avenue of association to her little bro or sis seemed to charm her into thinking her little sib was "cute" even before the little button rears his/her head.
Have your little one help make some decisions about how to decorate baby's room. Sadie's just starting to be able to vocalize choice. She gets to pick out her pajamas each evening, and she even gets to pick our Dad's work clothes every now and then (stay tuned for the post on that one...). So to make her feel a part of the decision-making process for new baby, we've given her opportunity for input into where the dresser goes in baby's new room, the crib color, and wall color. And she's loved every minute of it!
If your toddler exhibits some "baby-like" behavior in the lead-up to birth, respond with love and support. Of course, this almost goes without saying, but your toddler may revisit some one-year-old behavior as baby approaches, to show you that she, too, can be a baby, or to at least express some minor displeasure with your choice to have another. As always, welcome it with open arms, and respond with only love and support, as you normally do.
Have your hospital plan set. Make sure you know who will come and watch your big one when the big day (or night) arrives, so as to minimize last-minute stress on both you and your toddler.
Every family - and every toddler - is different, but I hope this all helps to create more calm in your lives as you prepare your toddler for the arrival of a little bro or sis.
Mimo Dad (almost twice over)