Ever since my baby bump began showing, I've spent a lot of time wondering how much of this process Gabriel will be able to comprehend and what kinds of things might help "prepare" him for the day when he's no longer the only child living in our home.
Honestly, I think it's really great when you can mentally prepare a child for the arrival of a sibling - but I'm also realistic about how vastly different that can look depending on a child's age. Gabriel is 20 months old and will probably be right around 22 months when his brother is born, so I recognize that there are plenty of things he won't fully comprehend until it all happens...and that's fine. I'm not going to sweat it.
However, just because our son doesn't fully comprehend his brother's impending arrival doesn't mean there aren't things we have tried our best to do to naturally ease the transition a bit. Some of these things are entirely within our control and others are definitely not - but combined I can already see how they've been steadily working to help Gabriel be better prepared and (hopefully) happy about his new baby brother.
Here's a list and summary of the top 3 things I think have helped prepare Gabriel to be an older brother:
1. We've been talking about babies (and families). More specifically, I began asking him over and over where the baby is and he began to point to my growing belly - which I think was a good general building block. In the months since then I've begun to tell him more about his baby brother, but have stuck to simple concepts like, "when he comes home with us you can hold him and hug him and give him kisses."
Going hand in hand with all the baby talk is what I've tried to convey to him about family structures. There are plenty of books and toys that show mothers and children, so he naturally began picking up on identifying which one is the "mama" and which is the "baby." I've used photos of families (in his books or library books) that better parallel our own family to help him identify the mommy, daddy, brother/sister, and baby...and have recently started following up by telling him that when his brother is born our family will consist of Daddy, Mommy, Gabriel, and baby ____ (I can't wait to share his name with the world!). How much of this does he understand when I connect these photos of other families to our names? I have no idea, but I do it anyway.
2. We bought Gabriel a baby doll (and later on, a toy bottle for his baby boy).
Not every child is guaranteed to show interest in baby dolls, but in my (limited) experience both little boys and girls tend to be fascinated by other children...especially babies. After witnessing Gabriel carry around my nieces' dolls while visiting my sister's place on multiple occasions, I began to see that giving him his own had a lot of potential as a fun toy with the added bonus of introducing him to more baby-related concepts.
We ended up giving him the doll before we left for Hawaii in hopes that it might be a fun, new, comforting toy to make it a bit easier on him in our absence. I think the timing of the gift coinciding with our trip did wonders to solidify the baby as his new comfort object (sorry, monkeys!) and before we knew it, "Baby" was never far from Gabriel's sight.
Carrying around his baby doll has already taught Gabriel how to be gentle with a baby, how to give him nice hugs and kisses, and it's been an excellent tactic for keeping him off all the baby gear that has been reappearing in our apartment as I get deeper into "nesting mode." The first day we brought the baby swing back out, Gabriel immediately wanted to hop inside - but thanks to his baby doll he quickly stopped and began to view it as a place to put a baby...all because I suggested he put Baby in the swing instead. Ever since then he hasn't tried pushing on it or climbing in, but you'd better believe he gently places his baby inside and even rocks him on a regular basis (be still my heart).
Another benefit from all this is that the baby doll gives Gabriel his own baby to hold whenever I'll be busy nursing or holding his brother. At the end of the day, though, I've never approached the baby doll as just a "teaching tool"; it's first and foremost our son's toy that he gets to love and goof around with. It just so happens that there are conveniently lots of things he has learned about babies in the process. ;)
3. This one is entirely beyond my control, but my sister had her third baby less than a week after we moved near her. Seriously...there's no better training to be a big brother than having a real, live baby in the family that he sees on a regular basis!
Fortunately, Gabriel has always been sweet with his new baby cousin so we haven't had to referee him too much (although he quickly had to learn not to poke babies in the eyes). He's always bringing him his pacifier or little toys to look at, but this past week he did something entirely new: he requested to hold his baby cousin! It melted my heart to see how excited he was to hold him for the first time and made me that much more excited to see his reaction to the birth of his brother.
I mean, just check these little dudes out and try not to grin at their cuteness together....
Less than 6 weeks to go until all this intentional (and unintentional) preparation goes into action...and I couldn't be more excited! I truly cannot wait to see how our boys interact and hope they will be the best of friends someday.
"Certainly, people can get along without siblings. Single children do, and there are people who have irreparably estranged relationships with their siblings who live full and satisfying lives, but to have siblings and not make the most of that resource is squandering one of the greatest interpersonal resources you'll ever have."