MOTHERHOOD: How not to piss off your toddler with a new baby
Firstly excuse the title, but I wanted to call a spade a spade as we have had some testing times with Etta since introducing Uma to the family.
On paper a 2 1/2 year age gap is wonderful - life long friends you think, will play together nicely in time you think, but the reality is some challenging times as your toddler tries to find their place in the newly expanded family unit.
The thing about being a toddler is that you're developing at a rate of knots, which can make you all kinds of emotional. Sometimes it manifests as separation anxiety, or a new found fear of things such as the dark or monsters, this is very common as their imagination specifically is really starting to come into its own.
So rather than tell you the tale of when Etta met Uma and all the fun and games we've been navigating since, I wanted to share the best bits of advice I received when I reached out to my friends and online community for advice. I hope you find a few nuggets to try.
* The first meeting is crucial. If your toddler comes to the hospital for a visit try and have it so that neither parent is holding the new baby, so that they don't feel instantly usurped. Then they can approach the little crib and say hi (whilst you quietly sob with emotion in the corner). If you're bringing the baby home for the first meet, similarly try to carry them in through the door in a car seat etc, as supposed to lovingly cradling them for that first introduction.
* Try telling your baby that they need to wait whilst you do XYZ with, or for, your toddler. That way the toddler feels like they are your focus. For example "Uma wait a moment whilst I go and get Etta her drink", this really takes the edge of all the "Mummy I need you" you'll likely get from the toddler.
* Create a box of special toys that you only get out when you feed the baby - as this is a particualrly testing time where you'll find your toddler all of sudden wants a cuddle or to be played with.
* Pretend to your toddler that the baby is talking to them. I often find myself saying "Oh Etta, did you just hear Uma say she loves you?" but it can be normal everyday stuff like "she just said she loves your dancing".
* Get them involved if they can. Etta is now a master at grabbing me muslins, wipes, changing mats, bananas etc. She oddly enjoys watching nappy changes and is obsessed with the colour of Uma's poo. Lovely...
* If your older child is a little bit too enthusiastic with the baby and likes to get a bit too close to their face, try telling them that the baby can't actually see them when they're that close so they need to stand back a bit if they want to be seen clearly.
* Tend to the toddler as soon as possible when they need something. I know that Etta's biggest frustration is having to ask me 20 times for her water or a snack, so i've got very good at wandering around the house whilst feeding Uma, getting bits and bobs for Etta so she doesn't feel like second best (not always possible I know, especially if they want to do something as supposed to have something).
* Give the older child a lot of praise for all the lovely things they do. Gush as much as possible - "Oh Etta, Uma is so lucky to have you as a big sister as you're so caring" or "Uma just said she can't wait until she's a little bit older as she wants to dance with you because you're such a good dancer". We all like a compliment and children are no different.
* Try "love bombing" with the older child. Which just means spending some quality one on one time at least once a week, ideally daily. It can be a small moment like their bathtime (jump in with them and have a play, if you have someone who can take the baby for 20 minutes or so) or I take Etta for a little breakfast every Friday morning. Uma is with us but I time it so that Uma generally is napping so Etta and I can have a good old chit chat - normally about how many marshmallows have come with her babychino or some other syntilating subject - but we both really enjoy it and head into the weekend feeling far more connected.
* Explain to them that they were a baby once so you cared for them in the same way. Etta also loves hearing about which clothes Uma wears that were hers, and how cute she was too.
* Try and put the baby to bed first, and then the toddler. Bedtime is super tough logistically with more than one child, but if you do toddler then baby it can all feel a bit rushed and distracted for the toddler. Obviously this is once your baby has a 7pm ish bedtime.
* Buggy boards work well too, as not only can the older child distract the baby, but you can also encourage them to chat to them.
Ultimately time will be the biggest game changer. We're asking our children to adapt to something monumentally huge in their life, often taking them from being an only child to feeling very much like they're not our focus any more. It's a big ask emotionally so give them time and as much attention as you can manage. We'll all get there and they'll love having a sibling to grow up with.
Good luck, and please do share any tips or trips you have in the comments.