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Friday, 19 April 2013

A Very Special Friday with Ute of Expat Since Birth

Markian is now 5 weeks old. He is a sweet baby, not crying more than necessary (although as any mom of a baby can tell it's still a lot), and I have some things figured out and am still working on others. Remember when I promised you a guest post with great advice on raising children? Here it is! 
Ute is my friend and neighbour, but she is also a fellow blogger at Expat Since Birth and multilingual mom. Her advice is just what I need right now- and it's  for every mom with more than one child. Thank you, Ute!

Welcome, newborn!

Even if you’ve already had two children, bringing a new baby into the house is still a big milestone for the whole family!

When a child becomes an older sibling there are many things going on, and as parents we would like to help our children not to feel neglected. The best thing to do is to put ourselves in our first borns shoes. Empathize with your children. And never forget: your first and second born may be older, but they are still very young and they’ll act their age (and maybe younger).

The oldest children do already know what it is like having a sibling. But they will still feel the transition from oldest sibling to one child to oldest sibling to two children and your youngest child will now become older child too. 

There are several ways to help your children to smoothe this transition. If you have to juggle your newborn’s needs with older siblings, no matter how old they are, you need a good strategy. While some older siblings might not need to be cuddled or looked after that much – because they’re more independent – others might need their mum even more right now. Age and character determine how our children cope with the new situation. And each family needs time to readjust, to get used to the new family dynamics and parents need to be very patient and empathetic with all the children.

Baby is there, but we were there before!
Make sure that the newborn is not always the center of attention. Tell your friends who come to visit, to take some time to talk or play with the older siblings too, to maybe bring some gifts for them too, in order to celebrate their new status as „older sister/brother“. We always celebrate the newborn, but why shouldn’t we celebrate our older children as well? They deserve it. Personally, I like the habit here in the Netherlands, where people congratulates the whole family for the newborn. Also siblings deserve this, therefore: Gefeliciteerd met de geboorte van je zusje! or Gefeliciteerd met de geboorte van je broertje!

First mum, then the rest...
The biggest challenge for a new mum is to manage to give her children one-to-one time and attention in the first period. You’ll be probably constantly feading or changing the newborn and recovering from giving birth. You’re tired and happy at the same time and feel overwhelmed about what just happened. Take all the time you need and don’t be afraid to tell your older children that mum is tired or hungry or that she just has do feed baby. Mum’s needs come first, because if mum feels good, the rest of the family will too!

Your big helpers
Involve your older children in the care of the newborn. Make them to your big helpers. You could form a team that takes care of the newborn. Show them how to handle the baby gently, how to kiss, hug, hold him, how to talk to him (babies like quiet, not to loud sounds), how to sing to him, play with him etc. I used to place my son on the ground while holding or feeding his sister(s), to be sure that if I had to leave the room, everyone was safe. – If you still think that they are to young to take some care of the baby, the older siblings could practice some baby-care duties on their doll. You could even reward them for taking good care of their babies. Age appropriate tasks help also to give them a self-esteem boost. They can choose the baby’s outfit, the lullaby to sing at bedtime (and maybe sing it to him). You can let them feed the baby or prepare everything to change the diapers (and maybe let them change them?), prepare the bath, bed etc.

Keep talking...
Tell your older children everything they want to know about the baby. Why does it need so much sleep? How many diapers does it need per day? When will it talk, walk, eat indipendently? Etc. During bath-time and diaper change you’ll have the chance to discover the newborn together with his siblings and help them to bond.

One-on-one time
The first weeks the newborn needs your full attention, but you still can try to use the time they sleep for yourself or your other kids. Try to find a moment for each child during the day. If your older children go to daycare or school, make sure that when they come home, you’re not feeding or changing the baby. Keep this moment free to welcome your older children and to have a chat and some one-on-one time, doing things you both enjoy. We used to arrange some special mum-child or dad-child moments in the weekends. While one of the parents could stay with the babies, the other one would go for a walk with the older one. It doesn’t have to be a big thing: running errands, a visit to the playground or to the park without the baby will help to rebond with your older child(ren).

Don’t push...
Give your older children some time to grow into their new role. They probably won’t always be thrilled about the baby. Babies are not always fun for their siblings and that is ok. It doesn’t mean that they are jealous. They just need some time to accept the new situation and to build relationships with the new brother or sister. And this will take years, not days, not weeks.

Some rewards and positive reinforcement
Talk a lot with your children, don’t let them feel excluded. You may also consider allowing them something new, now that they’re „big kids“ they deserve to feel the advantage of it. Point out all the advantages of being the older sibling: they can already talk on the phone, tidy up, help mum, slide, walk, drink, eat by themselves etc. Praise your older children when they act like their age. Reinforcing their good behaviour with compliments and attention when they show patience (while you’re busy with baby) or cooperative (helping you with the baby or the household) or empathetic (telling you that baby needs to be changed or fed etc.) will help the whole family to find a new balance.

Ute is an expat-since-birth in her forties living in the Netherlands with her Swissgerman husband and three children. She has a PhD in medieval French literature and worked at the Italian Linguistics Department at the University of Zurich (CH). She's multilingual and she speaks and writes in German, Italian, English and French fluently and is fluent in Dutch. She has never lived in her parents' home country (Germany). She's very Italian in her heart, a bit Swiss, French and Dutch. You can visit her blog (and I really advice you to do so, it's one of my favourites!), or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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