5 surprising things I've learnt since having my second child

"One of the most unexpected but delightful things about having a second child is watching the sibling relationship develop."
"One of the most unexpected but delightful things about having a second child is watching the sibling relationship develop." Photo: Getty Images

There are things that you can prepare for when you're having a second child, but some things are completely unexpected.

Since having my second child eight months ago, there have been five things that have helped make the first year so much easier.

Meeting the new baby together

Days before I was due to give birth to my second child, a friend told me a tip for helping my 3-year-old son initially cope with the new addition to the family.

"When he comes to the birthing centre after the baby is born, come out and meet him with your partner," she said. "Then the three of you to go in and see the baby together."

Rather than walking into a room with the baby and me already together, my son felt he had "discovered" his little sister and met her at the same time we did. He also bought a small present for her (and she had left one in her cot for him – so thoughtful!).

Relaxing about toy taking

A few months after my daughter was born, I noticed that my son would want whatever she was playing with. He would inevitably sidle up to her and make a grab for whatever she had. When I asked my son give back what he had taken, he would refuse. I found myself on edge and hovering over them both to make sure he didn't take what she was playing with.

One day my son snatched a toy from my daughter and just as I was about to insist he give it back, she laughed. I paused and watched what happened next. He gave her back the toy and after a few seconds he grabbed it again. She erupted into laughter. They were playing.

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I decided to relax about toy taking after that incident and after reading infant expert Janet Lansbury's blog and post about sibling toy taking. Lansbury says acting as a coach rather than a referee allows siblings to develop their own relationship and ways of resolving conflict.

I started to "sportscast" some of my children's interactions (by stating a non-judgmental commentary such as: ""He took the book from you and now you're reaching for it. You both want it") and the difference was instantaneous. While my son kept taking things from my daughter (and still does), he often returns them quickly or gives her something else to play with. This technique, while not foolproof, has helped us all negotiate the new sibling relationship.

Sit happens

Most baby books say that around six months babies are ready to start practising sitting up.

With my son I always ensured he had plenty of opportunities to sit and would prop him up surrounded by cushions. My daughter started crawling at six months and I was surprised that she naturally put herself into a sitting position from all fours. It turns out there are lots of advantages in allowing babies to get into a sitting position by themselves.

As paediatric physical therapist Wendi McKenna says, babies who can get into sitting by themselves "are immediately safer and more confident sitters than babies placed in sitting … because babies who are placed in sitting have not yet practiced those moves that will help them maintain balance or control falls."

I've noticed that my daughter doesn't tip over nearly as much as my son did, and if she does, she is controlled and rarely hurts herself. She isn't frozen into position, but is able to move in and out of it all by herself.

Audio books are the best

My daughter thinks sleeping is for wimps. She rarely manages more than 30-minute catnaps throughout the day and wakes multiple times during the night. Helping settle her to sleep in the day can take up to 20 minutes and initially I asked my son to play quietly. After he decided thumping the piano to play her a "lullaby" was a good idea, I borrowed some audio books from the library.

Now when I get the baby ready for sleep, I pop on Pooh Bear, James and the Giant Peach (read by Roald Dahl himself!) or The Enchanted Wood and know that my son is content playing and listening to some of his favourite stories while I encourage my daughter to get some much needed rest.

The sibling relationship

Perhaps one of the most unexpected but delightful things about having a second child is watching the sibling relationship develop. I love the way my daughter shrieks with her arms thrashing excitedly when my son comes into the room, the gummy kisses he gets from her, and the way he is so forgiving of her sticky hands grabbing at his hair.

The relationship with our siblings tends to be the longest of our lives, and even when things are messy, loud and chaotic with the two of them, I know they will always have each other. As my son said to me yesterday, "Mum, I like having a sister. Let's keep her."