Encouraging Independence and Patience:
The fact is that when there’s a newborn in the house, everyone else takes a back seat. Since I was either nursing or attached to a pump for like 80% of the day, I needed my first to be able to entertain herself and do things for herself. However, I didn’t want her to feel displaced by the baby or feel like the baby caused all the changes (even though she basically did). So, we started practicing patience and independence before the baby came. Here are some things we did:
* We introduced and practiced activities that she could do independently, such as drawing, puzzles, and playdough. This way she got used to playing on her own for an extended period of time before it was directly related to me being busy with her sister. If she asked for help, I would kindly redirect her to doing it herself. ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT both before and after baby: when my daughter was doing activities herself, I was always watching and providing specific feedback and praise that let her know I was paying attention and still interacting with her. An example: “Wow, you drew a red truck! Do you want to add some wheels?”
* I started taking a while to do things and asking her to wait. At first, this seemed silly since I could have done when she asked immediately, but again, this was getting her used to the concept of having to wait for things. I didn’t have to frame it negatively. For example, if she asked, “Mommy, can I have some juice?” I would say, “Yes, in one second. Just let me finish this article I’m reading.” Then if she waited patiently, I would be genuinely appreciative (again, with specific feedback): “Thank you so much for waiting. I really appreciate how patient you were.”
* We started working on independent self-care. Anything I could think of that she could do herself, we started practicing. This included: putting on her own shoes, climbing into her carseat and buckling the top buckle, getting cups and utensils herself from a low-level cabinet, filling her own water cup from the fridge. Again, specific and genuine praise whenever possible. “Did you buckle your carseat yourself? Wow, you are such a big girl! I’m really impressed!” My daughter LOVED to do things herself, so this wasn’t a tough sell. And when her sister arrived, she was already well-practiced at these tasks and it saved me a ton of time and energy when I was suddenly trying to take two kids to Safeway.
After the Baby is Born
Quick Summary: After our second was born, our goal was to integrate her into the family while changing our oldest’s life as little as possible. We felt this would minimize any feelings of jealousy and would lead to a strong bond between them. This started when my oldest first came to meet her sister at the hospital and continues today.
At the hospital:
* We had a framed picture of our family of 3 displayed prominently in the room to show our oldest we were thinking of her while we were away.
* When our oldest came to visit for the first time, Grandma came in first and took the baby, then Dad brought our oldest in. That way, when she came in to see me for the first time, my arms were open to hug her and give her attention. Her first visual was not “I’ve been replaced by a baby.”
* We had a present for her on-hand that was “from her sister” (for us it was a book). At first I thought this was totally patronizing to her, but man did she LOVE it! Baby sister made quite the first impression!
At home and beyond:
* We made every effort to keep the normal routine. Big sister still went to school even though I was on maternity leave, and we kept up our regular playdates.
* I wore the baby whenever possible in a baby carrier so that I still had hands free to interact with my oldest. (“Why yes, lady at the park, my boob is out since I’m nursing a newborn in a wrap and using my free hands to help my daughter off the swing! Your point is....”)
* Continued specific feedback and praise for all examples of patience and independence.
* One-on-one time with our oldest as much as possible, both with Dad and with Mom. We wanted to make sure that our oldest felt special for being a big sister, not forgotten.
So, there you have it folks. Again, these are the suggestions and tactics that worked best for our family. Our girls have a great relationship. I could, of course, conclude 100% that it was my “excellent parenting and preparation” that led us to this point, but it’s also possible that we could have done none of this and they’d still be best friends, or we could have done all of it and we’d still be trying to prevent the oldest from smothering the youngest in her sleep. But you have to start somewhere, right?