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New mum - And your older children

Dividing your parental attentions between siblings can be a delicate balancing act, here's how to make it easier

Posted: 21 April 2011
by Maria Muennich

Baby and toddler playing together
Get older children involved to stop them teasing new brothers or sisters

All children, no matter how old, need your attention and adding another child to your family will always dilute the attention given to your existing child(ren) to some degree. If you only have one older child then you might be thinking  that this is no bad idea, that sharing the limelight will be good for your child, and longterm you're probably right. But whether you have two or seven children, there are bound to be times when you feel overwhelmed and unable to give everyone the attention they need, particularly in the first few weeks following a new arrival. Here are some ideas for spreading your attention further while keeping your sanity.

Involving the other children with the baby

Actively involving your older children with a new baby can have a big impact on how they feel about the new arrival. If the siblings are very much older then they may not be terribly interested in the new baby, but younger children particularly are often fascinated and keen to help out. Show your older child how you do things at bathtime (including these games to make bathtime fun), changing and play. Talk through why you do what, and entrust her with simple tasks appropriate to her age: even  toddlers can fetch a towel, nappy or a piece of clothing.  By doing things together you not only make your other children feel proudly grown up and helpful, but you can also use the opportunity to share your attention between baby and child.

Another way to foster sibling interest in a baby is to  comment on how interested the baby is in them and in what they are doing. Point out to them how the baby reacts to them when they talk to her, smile at her and try to play with her.

Do things together

You only have so much time, but you can make what time you do have go further by doing things together, as a family. Meal times are an an obvious time when you can make sure that you focus on each and every child; in fact with the potential for mess-making you might not have much choice! Try not to let one or two children rule the roost and instead encourage them all to participate by asking questions and actively listening.   

There are certain activities that can span several age groups, such as reading: your baby will probably enjoy being read to, but for a while at least won't be fussy about the content, which means you can read books together that your older children will enjoy. Singing songs that have actions to go with them also gives a little more interest to an older child, who can teach the younger children what to do or 'perform' the songs for the baby. An occasional  trip to the zoo can be a great chance for each child to have their part of the day; simply let each child choose an animal that they would like to visit and go as a group to see each.

Give your older children some one-on-one attention

While a new baby will probably suck up a disproportionate amount of your attention in the early days you can make this easier on your older child, or children, by making sure that you still get some regular one-on-one time with them. If you're using childcare or your family help looking after your children then consider devoting some of that time to regular help with the baby to leave you free to spend baby-free time with the others.

Get help

You may want to  do it all yourself, but, especially in these first few weeks, this isn't the time to be trying to prove yourself a super-mum. Real super-mums know when they need a helping hand and aren't above asking for help or accepting when it's offered. Why not have a list prepared of some small but useful things that other family members or friends could do for you, if someone asks whether they can help, you have a few suggestions ready. And remember to keep talking to your partner.

If help from family and friends isn't really an option then consider whether you can afford some paid help around the house or with a bit of childcare to free up a bit of time, even if it's only for the first few weeks.

And don't forget to stock up on all the essentials in the new mum survival kit.

Take a break & re-energise

Being supportive to all your children demands a great deal of energy, particularly if you're breastfeeding your new baby.  As well as making sure you eat well, and regularly, you'll need to have some 'me time' to relax and regroup if you're going to give your family the best of yourself. Set aside some time each week where you do something to relax for an hour or two and try every day to do something small for yourself, whether that's reading over a coffee for twenty minutes or calling a friend for a quick catch-up, whatever will give you a quick pick-me-up.

Rein-in your expectations

Hand-in-hand with getting help and making some time for yourself is simply not trying to do too much in the first place. For most people life doesn't just go on as normal after a new baby, and you'll all need at least a few weeks to adjust and find a new rhythm. If you set very high expectations of yourself now then you'll only end up feeling inadequate, so make your to-do list is more realistic all-round, particularly when it comes to household chores: You need to prioritise healthy eating for all the family, time for your children, time for your partner, time for yourself and a safe household environment for your children. You don't need to: keep a spick and span home, make every meal fresh from raw ingredients and turn the whole family out immaculately every day. In a few years' time you won't be looking back regretting the ironing that went undone!

Give yourself a routine if it doesn't flow naturally

If you're finding it difficult to tick all the required parenting boxes in a given day and feel that you're being stretched too thinly, then it might help to give your week a bit more structure by timetabling in certain activities. You probably don't have to have a timetable for every afternoon to create a useful routine that makes sure that everyone in the family is catered for - with the likes of drawing and painting, trips to the park, waterplay, reading and so on - over the course of the week.


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