For many parents, having a second child is in many ways surprisingly different from having a first. For one thing, you know roughly what to expect from the pregnancy, childbirth, and early months, you feel more confident about your ability to handle a baby. You also know what sorts of advice to ignore, how much money you really need to spend, and what sort of feeding routine works for your family. But perhaps the most important difference between the first and the second is the simple
fact that now there will be two instead of one, and this makes things immensely more complicated.
It is easy to find advice for preparing a first child for the arrival of the second, but there is not much information about the specific challenges of preparing a toddler. Younger toddlers especially are still very limited in what they understand, and the concept of a little sibling might not fully register. Meanwhile, children of this age are still challenged what it comes to dealing with their own feelings, and they might still have trouble following their parents’ orders. All these elements can combine to create a difficult situation.
Of course, there are some great things about having a second child when the first is still a toddler. If you plan to only have two children, this allows you to get all the hard early stuff out of the way. You will have a two- to four-year marathon of difficult nights, diaper changes, and constant supervision, but things will get much easier as your elder child approaches preschool age and the younger gets into toddlerhood. After that, there are plenty of challenges to parenting, but you never again have to worry about the especially difficult aspects of the infant and toddler years.
Laying the groundwork
To make the whole thing go as smoothly as possible, start preparing your first child as soon as you learn you are going to have the second. Here are a few ways to do this:
• Even if you think your child is too young to understand that a younger sibling is on the way, make sure to talk about it often. Also, find infant books that help introduce your child to these concepts, and make sure to spend time around other families that contain siblings.
• Do everything you can to make your first as independent as possible. If she still needs help napping or sleeping through the night or is a little behind in feeding, take things to the next level now. Start treating her like a bigger kid and she will have no choice but to become one.
• If you will have to make practical changes such as moving your firstborn to a new bedroom or bringing in a babysitter for some days, implement these changes long before the arrival of the second child so that your eldest will not have to adjust to too many new things at once.
Welcoming little brother or sister
The most challenging time is after the second child has arrived. Unforeseen difficulties will undoubtedly arise, but here are some things you can do to make it smoother:
• Make everything about both children. For instance, when friends and family come over to meet the baby, make it clear that the get-together is also about visiting the older child.
• Do fun, special things for the older child to enjoy. You are of course as excited as can be about the new addition to the family, but your older child will take it in stride and get used to it surprisingly fast. So make sure she has things to get excited about other than the new sibling.
• Give your older child extra special attention. If she seems like she wants to be babied, do not fight it too much. It is common for toddlers to regress in some ways when a little brother or sister arrives. This will be short-lived, but in the meantime you can make things easier by letting the child set the tone for how she wants to be treated.
By Jamell Andrews