Rachel Grunwell

Rachel Grunwell is a fitness writer for the Herald on Sunday.

Helping kids cope with the new baby

Settling a new baby into a house where older siblings already live requires some thinking ahead, writes Rachel Grunwell.

Rachel Grunwell and her three boys, Lachlan Buckley, 4 (left); Finn, 7 months, and Zach, 6. Photo / Janna Dixon
Rachel Grunwell and her three boys, Lachlan Buckley, 4 (left); Finn, 7 months, and Zach, 6. Photo / Janna Dixon

Parents with one or two children often stop me and ask: "How the heck do you manage with three kids?"

My response: "special tactics".

Apart from the cost and having a house or a car big enough, most people contemplating having a bigger family probably wonder how to manage more kids than they have arms for. But the biggie is usually that they want a strategy to deal with settling a baby into a house where there are one or two children already - without things turning to custard.

Diane Levy, an experienced Auckland-based family therapist and mother of three, jokes we should all become octopuses so we have enough arms to cope with the demands of multiple children. But she says the key is to make the older children feel at ease about the new addition.

And this means not telling porkies.

Levy says the worst thing parents can do is "oversell" how "exciting" a new baby will be because then it can become a "terrible let-down" when the baby arrives.

She says a toddler will soon feel "horribly betrayed" that they cannot, in fact, play with the baby, it cries a lot and there's not as much attention coming their way with this new gig.

Ways to manage the arrival and possible jealousies is to talk about the role the older siblings can play in helping - but only if they want to.

"Let them be the apprentice," says Levy, adding toddlers can be great for fetching nappies.

She advises organising a lovely present "from the baby". Even older kids will happily go along with this, even though they know it can't be true.

Try to spread some focus on to the older children wherever possible. Ask them, "Would you like to show the visitors your new baby?" or tell the older children "Look, the baby is looking at you" - when they are actually capable of only staring into space.

The family therapist says it's a good idea to keep toddlers busy while feeding the baby, which can take a big chunk of time and is often when jealousies arise. One way is to have a special box of toys they can play with at feeding times.

Also invite the toddler to be close while they play so they feel like they are getting attention, too.

Levy says if a toddler starts to "cling on" for a bit of attention, then simply let them. She reckons they will soon figure out there's more exciting stuff to do.

She reckons parents should "ruthlessly use the electronic babysitter". Sometimes parents just need to distract toddlers while they feed the baby, get dinner or read with an older child. She reasons that it's not fair that we live in an era in which grandparents usually do not live close by to help anymore as they once did. So parents need to take the help where they can get it.

Plunket spokeswoman Nikki Hooper says good support can be key, such as a neighbour, friends or relatives. They can help look after the baby while a parent reads to an older child or so they can have time out away from the kids to recharge.

Hooper says to let the older kids feel "part of it all" and if they revert to bad behaviour to get attention then remind them how much they are loved.

"Being a super-mum is a myth. You don't have to be everything to everyone and be perfect and it's okay to have a messy house." says Hooper.

Meanwhile, I found presents "from the baby" were a big hit, roping in grandparents to give attention to the older kids helped, and teaching the older kids how to cuddle the baby helped them love the new little guy from the outset.

But yes, on some days, when the washing seems to reach the height of the Sky Tower, it would help to be an octopus.

Tips:

* Pick up Plunket's Thriving Under 5 booklet or see plunket.org.nz.

* Don't overdo the sales pitch to kids that the new arrival will be too fabulous.

* Prepare the older kids for what it will be like with a newborn.

* Train the toddler how to give and receive affection from the baby "without endangering the baby's life or your blood pressure", says Diane Levy.

* Give a present to toddlers "from the baby".

* Have a special toy box for your toddler during the baby's feeding times.

- Herald on Sunday

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