First let me start by saying we are not expecting another baby, in fact, unless God decides to send us a little surprise, I think our family is pretty much complete as is! :) That said, I get asked this question a lot by friends – they want to know how I prepared Rylan for Damian’s arrival. So, I thought it was time to put it here, on the blog so I always have an easy to find reference on the subject.
I believe if you prepare your older child(ren) for the arrival of a new baby, the new baby will be born already loved by their older sibling. And jealously in the older sibling, as well as other difficult behaviors that could manifest themselves with such a dramatic change in family dynamics, can be kept to a minimum (this is not only wonderful for the children, but also makes life easier for the parents who are adjusting to having another person to care for and probably on very little sleep!).
So, here are some of the things we did to prepare Rylan for Damian’s arrival (I say some, because I am pretty sure I don’t remember everything we did, even so this is a long post!):
- In Israel (where both of my boys were born) they monitor pregnancies very closely, so we knew from very early on, about 14-16 weeks that Damian was doing well and was definitely a boy…with that knowledge, we shared the news with Rylan, so he would have plenty of time to get used to the idea. We also chose Damian’s name relatively soon after it was confirmed that he was a boy and started calling him by it, so he felt like a part of the family already.
- In addition, to using his name, we included Damian in various parts of family life, for example, during prayer time he was prayed for. Rylan, without our prompting, would lean close to my belly and sing a prayer for Damian every night, “So he can hear me!”, he told us. He always sang the same prayer, “O God! Educate these children. These children are the plants of Thine orchard, the flowers of Thy meadow, the roses of Thy…”, by ‘Abdu’l-Baha. I have to say that, to this day, when Damian is crying and really upset, if Rylan sings this prayer to him, he stops crying, listens, and completely calms down! It was immensely helpful when he was a small baby, and it made Rylan feel very special that he had his own, very effective way of calming Damian down. It also made Rylan feel loved by his brother before Damian was able to express himself.
- I involved Rylan in the process of my preparations – I spoke to him about it, answered his questions, took him shopping with me and let him help me choose stuff that we needed for Damian. He helped me go through the old baby clothes and toys (during this process I called these things “clothes and toys for Damian”, I did not point out that they were his old things, I felt like that may cause unnecessary possessiveness over things he had long forgotten about, since they had been put away for some time).
- We worked on various things that would help Rylan become more independent before Damian arrived, to reduce his frustration when I couldn’t help because I was busy with Damian and his independence would also make things easier for me in those early days where my focus would have to be on Damian. Things like learning to get dressed by himself, getting small snacks for himself from the kitchen, and toilet training. I made sure to start all of this learning early in the pregnancy, with the hopes that it would all be well-learnt and a normal part of life, long before Damian’s arrival. I would not recommended making any big life changes for your older child right before or directly after the arrival of a new sibling, if it can be avoided.
- We read books together about pregnancy and new babies, there are lots of great age appropriate books on these subjects. You can see my recommendations at the end of this post. I also prepared myself by reading various books, one of my favorites was Siblings Without Rivalry.
- I bought Rylan a newborn baby doll (bought from a teacher resource centre, because I wanted a true to life doll), I also bought a little set of baby care toys (diapers, bibs, pacifier, creams, baby soap, etc) to go with the doll. We played with it, showing him what it would be like to care for a baby, how to hold him, change diapers, burp him, we spoke about breastfeeding and how much he would sleep at first, and not be able to play or talk, etc. Right before Damian was born I set up a baby changing centre for his doll right next to Damian’s diaper changing table, so that while I was caring for Damian, Rylan could care for his baby. I also let him pull a stool over and help me with Damian, if he wanted to.
- At some stage before Damian was born (a few months) Ramtin and I started making very gentle and subtle remarks about how all the toys would be shared, pointing out as well that Rylan would get to try out all the baby toys we were washing and getting ready for Damian. Somehow this worked really well for us. By the time Damian was born, Rylan was already thinking about the toys in our home as being more “family” toys that we all shared and played with, so he was not possessive over them when it came time for Damian to play with them too. Of course, he has always had his own special cuddlies that he sleeps with and the like, which are his special toys.
- Before Damian was born I went out and bought a small present for Rylan, which I wrapped, and put in my hospital bag. When Rylan came for his first visit to meet Damian, Damian “gave” him the present. Ramtin helped Rylan make a welcome card for Damian, which he brought to the hospital to give to his brother. I also had a framed picture of Rylan on my hospital night stand, which I showed him when I was packing and we discussed how much I would miss him and think about him while I was away.
- Family arrived a couple of weeks before Damian’s birth, so Rylan could get used to being with them and having them care for him as well, so that he was comfortable with them when it was time for us to go to the hospital. Ramtin took several days off work to be home with Rylan while I was in hospital (I was there for two days), and to give Rylan extra attention the first few days I was back home. Rylan visited with us both days at the hospital for long periods of time, and was with us when we brought Damian home (I would have loved for us to stay together at the hospital all the time, but there was no allowance for this, all the rooms in the maternity ward were shared, so families were only allowed to be there during visiting hours!).
- And one little note about the time since Damian joined us: whenever we feel like Rylan needs a little extra love and attention from us, we let him stay up for a special movie or game night. It seems we only need to do this every once and a while and it works wonders.