With your first baby, you spend days dreaming of the nursery and reading baby books, attending showers and learning about how to use all of the gifts you receive. With the second baby, you go in with a hint of confidence; I’ve done this before and that one seems relatively well adjusted, I can do this! But for me there was also a lingering fear of, “but can I expect my son to be ready to be a big brother?” He did not choose this, we did not consult him before getting pregnant, and all he has ever known is being the only child or being the baby of the family. So instead of dreaming up an elaborate nursery, I started to read about preparing an older child for a new sibling. And reading certainly helped; reading to my sons about gaining a new brother and reading articles and blogs about how to make this transition. But once the new baby arrived, I learned a few tricks of my own.
Early on after having my second child, I noticed a pattern of misbehavior developing whenever I nursed the baby. My oldest always needed to go potty right as I sat down to nurse, he often threw fits (and toys) as I was trying to get the hang of feeding a baby again, and he wanted all my attention. So what did I do? Ignore him as to not encourage this behavior? No! I followed his lead. Together, we learned that making nursing about him, as much as possible, made some of those feelings of jealousy fade away. And it was clear to me, that I was best able to give him this attention during this time too. Once the baby latched, I was free to give all of my attention to my older son. This habit of making nursing time about the older siblings carried over to our routine now that baby #3 has arrived.
Of course, there are some limits to what you can do as a mom or dad with your child while you are feeding or holding a baby. I have a set list of go to nursing friendly activities in my mind so that my older kids don’t start to resent the attention given to their baby brother. Often when looking for new toys for birthdays or holidays, I think about how easily we can do this together with only one or no arms.
One of our favorite no prep activity is a scavenger hunt. This activity can be made silly, easy, hard, educational, themed, or anything you need it to be based on your child’s age and interests. It is as simple as the name sounds. I tell them to find something that starts with the letter P, or find a dinosaur that is a theropod, or find something that is red and white. There are lists all over Pinterest of different scavenger hunt ideas. To up the fun factor, my kids like to dress up as a spy agent looking for clues to solve a mystery.
Another easy game we like is shadow play. This one is as easy as turning on the flashlight on the back of my phone and letting him discover how his shadow grows and shrinks as he moves close and far from the light. We make stories with his shadows and discover how different toys’ shadows look. There are also shadow playbooks that can make this activity even more fun.
Reading is a simple activity to engage in with older kids. Though, holding a book while feeding a baby can potentially present some challenges. This is where I learned to be strategic in picking the right kind of book. If you do have one hand free, picking a smaller board book allows you to hold up the book with only one hand without the pages falling everywhere. A board book is also simpler for kids to hold themselves and turn pages independently. If your kid will be holding the book themselves, it also helps to pick books that aren’t too wordy and have large text, as kids, at least mine, aren’t known for sitting still well, and reading a bouncing wordy book is not a skill I have mastered. The scanimation books by Rufus Butler Seder are a perfect size. Gallop! and Waddle! also encourage movement asking kids things like, “Can you Gallop like a horse?” Which can help to extend this activity by asking the older sibling to show you how they can do each movement. The simple text makes learning the book easy for kids; on more than one occasion I have caught a big brother reading them to the newest addition. These books include high contrast images, which are perfect for a newborn to engage with too.
Magnetic toys also make great sit-down, one hand or hands-free activities. Magnets help to keep little hands from dropping items all over the floor and asking you to pick them up. Toys like the Melissa and Doug Magnetic Dress Up sets are fun simple pretend play that can be done in a young child’s lap while you hold a baby. Magnatabs also make mess-free activities you can have your older child do next to you as you review letters and numbers together all while you are sitting and hands-free. If you do have one hand free, you can also play a magnetic board game with an older child like Magnetic Reversi. The key here is to have something magnetic that a child can hold without the pieces slip-sliding around.
My oldest son most enjoys activities that allow him to be the center of attention but without sitting down. Puppet shows tick off both of these boxes for him. And for me, puppet shows tick off the pretend play box. I love watching him and his brother create imaginary stories for their littlest brother. My oldest also loves playing Charades for kids. This set lets even pre-readers participate in this classic game as it gives picture prompts in addition to word prompts. He loves taking out a big stack of cards to act out as I watch and guess.
Of course, there is something to be said about encouraging independent play in your older sibling, but I like to use independent play for those moments when I am trying to clean or cook. Nursing and feeding times make great opportunities to give attention to my older kids without being distracted by the to-do list. Making nursing about my older children has fostered a love of those times when mommy has to sit and pay attention and lessened feelings of jealousy as baby brother’s needs are met.
Rebecca, originally from Texas, migrated to Michigan with her husband and two boys aged 2 and 5 years old. Rebecca is currently a stay-at-home mom but has a background is psychology with a special interest in early childhood development and parenting. She keeps up to date in the latests techniques in both areas whenever she can!