It’s something you’ve been looking forward to with a lot of excitement. And yes, an equal amount of anxiety.
You are introducing your new baby to your toddler.
You know from experience that the first few months of having a baby are the hardest. And yet, you are committed not to neglect your older child in the process and do your best to help him fall in love with the little one.
But, you have concerns…
How to balance the demands on your time to ensure that you can fill your older child’s bucket with attention while attending to the newborn’s needs?
How to ensure that your weariness does not seep into the tentative relationship that is budding between your little angels?
What can you do to tip the relationship in favour of sibling harmony and love and all that ooey-gooey stuff instead of life-long competitiveness, rivalry and conflicts?
If you’ve spent much of your pregnancy imagining the moment when you’ll introduce your first child to your new baby, alternating between feelings of happy anticipation and crippling panic, don’t worry: It’s completely normal to experience such a broad — and dramatic! — range of emotions. Introducing siblings to each other can be a big, exciting, stressful deal.
No matter how much you try to prepare your child for the new baby, you can’t know for sure whether he or she will love, hate or (probably the most likely scenario) be utterly disinterested in their little brother or sister.
Every family is different, and every toddler will handle welcoming a new sibling differently, but ensure that everyone is as prepared as they can be; here are some tips for transitioning into a family with both a toddler and a baby.
But you can be thoughtful about how to make the transition as comfortable as possible for your first child. Here are some ideas.
Here Are a Few Ideas to Help You Transition and Welcome a New Baby Into Your Growing Family
Talk to Your Toddler
It may seem obvious, but one of the most accessible places to start preparing for your family will change by simply talking to your toddler. Ask them what they think is happening to find out where their thoughts are.
If you’re pregnant, for example, your toddler may already know that there is a baby in your belly. If you’re adopting, they may have some questions about where the baby is from.
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Tell Your Toddler in a Way That He Will Understand
It’s essential to cue your child into what’s happening with your pregnancy, especially since they will start to pick up on the physical cues you exhibit, such as being more tired, feeling nauseated, and a growing belly. If your child is over the age of three, be sure to break the news early.
We recommend having this conversation around the end of the first trimester. Tell him in a way that he’ll understand and appreciate, such as “you’re going to have a new baby brother or sister to play with.”
Children that young don’t have an excellent grasp of time passing and may not fully understand the waiting process before a baby arrives. If the child is under three, it’s best to wait until the third trimester to share the news. Once your belly gets bigger, around the third trimester, he’ll start to understand that your body is changing and that a new baby is on the way.
It’s helpful to tie the baby’s arrival into a season or holiday your toddler can understand, such as “the baby will be here by summer when we all go to the pool,” or “your little brother or sister will be here by Christmas!”
Be Prepared for Any Reaction
It’s hard to predict how your little one will react to having a new sibling join him in the family. Some children will be excited, while others will be angry and upset. Some will be completely confused.
No matter how your child takes the news of a new sibling, be sure to reassure him that you and your partner love him unconditionally, and that will never change. If he’s indifferent or takes a while to respond, he may need some time to process the new information.
Instead of peppering him with questions or declarations, please wait until your child comes to you asking questions and answer them as directly as possible.
Demystify Pregnancy by Reviewing Your Toddler’s Birth
A great way to demystify pregnancy for your toddler is to show him pictures of the time before being born. This is also a great way to help your toddler understand what will happen over the coming months.
You can start with pictures of what you looked like before your toddler was conceived. Make it fun by asking your toddler what differences there are between those pictures and how you look now.
Point out your flat tummy. Then progress through pictures where your belly has grown. Be sure to tell your toddler that it was him there. Finish with images of your toddler shortly after birth. Ask him if mommy’s hair is different.
Again, ask him to look for differences between what he looked like and what he looks like now. This can help prepare him for the arrival of his sibling.
If you have videos of your toddler’s pregnancy, feel free to watch them with your toddler. Videos can be more instructive and informative than pictures.
Include videos of you during your pregnancy, of you and your toddler soon after birth, and of your toddler in the first few years of life.
Through those videos, your toddler can get a sense of what you went through when he was a baby. That will help him understand what will happen over the coming months.
Include Your Child in the Pregnancy
Make sure your little one feels included throughout the pregnancy and all the baby festivities. Take your toddler with you to doctor appointments and let him hear his new brother or sister’s heartbeat.
Show him ultrasound photos and let him feel the baby kick.
The more involved your child is in his little sibling’s life, the more excited he’ll be to step into the role of big brother.
If your child is under age three, it’s helpful to show him his newborn photos.
Be sure to explain how much attention you’ll need to give the new baby when they arrive. Try “babies are small and fragile, and mommy will need to hold him or her a lot of the time as I did with you.” This will prepare your toddler for what to expect when the new baby arrives.
Introduce the New Sibling Calmly After Birth
Everything surrounding giving birth is chaotic:
Rushing to the hospital.
- Dealing with a room full of doctors and nurses.
- A well-meaning but impatient family in the waiting room eager to get a glimpse of your new little guy or girl.
When it’s time for your toddler to meet his new sibling, make sure it’s in a calm environment so that the focus can be on your toddler and the new baby.
If your toddler is old enough, let him hold his new little sibling (with supervision, of course) and explain just how much this new baby is going to love him and look up to him.
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Show Your Toddler the Proper Way to Interact With Your Baby
You know your newborn is fragile, but your toddler may not be, instead of expecting him to figure it out on his own and then chastising him for being too rough, set aside time to guide your toddler through the proper way to interact with his sibling.
Show your toddler his new brother or sister’s tiny fingers and toes. With your help, let him hold the newborn and feel their weight.
Ask your toddler how he feels when he gets his finger pinched in a toy, and then tell him that his sibling can feel the same thing. This will help your toddler realise that he needs to be gentle to hurt his sibling.
Maintain a Normal Routine With the Older Sibling
While going from one child to two will change your daily lives and make things more chaotic, try to stick to your little one’s routine as much as possible.
This will be easier if you and your partner can work as a team by setting clear responsibilities for each of you to tackle.
The more your older child can stick to the same morning routine, lunch and dinner times, bathtime and bedtime, the easier it will be for him to adjust to the new brother or sister in his life.
Praise Him for Performing Older Sibling Duties
It’s important to recognise when your toddler is performing his sibling duties. If he’s being gentle with the new baby, kissing him on the head, or helping you pick up toys, make sure you acknowledge how responsible and loving he is towards his baby brother or sister.
The positive recognition will give him a confidence boost and reinforce good behaviour if the older sibling starts acting out violently or threatening to harm the baby in any way, correct that behaviour immediately.
Remind Him That Babies Are Small and Fragile, and That He Needs to Be Careful Around a Newborn.
Help Him Feel Important
In addition to praising your toddler’s good significant sibling behaviour, assign him age-appropriate responsibilities so he feels like he’s essential to the new baby’s life.
Asking him to help you dress and bathe the baby or fetch you diapers for changings will give him a sense of pride that he’s part of the process.
As always, remind your older child that his parents love him more than ever, and a house with a new baby brother or sister is never going to change that. Make your child feel secure by explaining that you’re all one big, happy family.
Spend One-On-One Time With Your Older Child
Spending one-on-one time with your older child can be difficult with a new baby in the house. Making time for your toddler, though, can help him adjust to the new family dynamic. When your newborn is napping, take some time to play with your older child. Cuddle up on the couch and read a book or watch a video together.
Ask him to show you his favourite toys. Even playing a video game together can be a fun way to rejuvenate and reinforce the bond you have with your toddler.
Practice Role Play
Gifting your toddler with a doll or similar toy can be a great way to introduce the concept of taking care of a baby. Practice how to change diapers or tip-toe near the playpen or crib or how to be gentle around the baby.
You can even give your toddler his own set of baby supplies so he can help you take care of the baby when she arrives.
My toddlers loved being tasked with particular “jobs” to help Mom out when a new baby was on board. You might as well get some help fetching those wipes, right?
Make Any Physical Changes Ahead of Time
If you need to make any physical changes, such as transitioning your toddler from a crib to a bed to make way for the new baby, you might consider making those changes before the baby comes. If your toddler sees you try to take “her” crib, she may resent the baby. Making the changes ahead of time and celebrating that your toddler is a “big kid” now who gets new things can help make that transition a little easier.
Let it Happen Naturally.
We did not go overboard to prepare our toddler for life with a new baby in our family. At two years old, toddlers may not understand everything about a new baby, and in a lot of ways, it made sense to let the transition unfold organically.
We talked about the baby and made a big deal about the sleepover at her grandma’s house when the baby came, but other than that, we didn’t try to emphasise how much our lives would change.
We treated the new baby as just a normal part of our family, and our toddlers just went along with the changes without any issues.
Give a Sibling Gift
Some families have found that it helps if the new baby “gives” their big brother or sister a special gift. So while the new baby is getting passed around with lots of attention from grown-ups, the big sister or brother can earn some extra attention from a special gift from the newcomer.
In our family, our fourth baby “gave” her big siblings a unique gift they could use together. My older kids still talk about the present she got them.
Bonus points if the gift can help entertain the toddler while the baby’s parents catch some much-needed rest. Some suggestions for toddler sibling gifts could include a memorable day out, an activity toy, a new colouring book, and crayons, or even a tiny camera that the toddler can use to play “photographer.”
Don’t Force It
If your toddler doesn’t seem interested in the new baby, don’t force it. It won’t be long before your baby grows, and they will be playing and probably getting into squabbles together. Your toddler might need time to adjust and prepare to observe the baby from a distance for now.
Help Them Become Friends Before Birth.
Just as you’re getting to know your baby-to-be during the several months that they are growing inside you, your older child can, too.
Look at ultrasound photos together. Let your child touch your baby bump, talk and sing to the baby and feel the baby kick. If possible, take your child along to your prenatal appointments to hear the baby’s heartbeat.
Ask your child what they imagine the new baby is thinking or doing inside your tummy — and continue these conversations once the new baby arrives. For example, “Your baby sister is crying.
Why do you think she’s sad?” This can help your child see their new sibling as a natural person and, hopefully, a future friend.
Plan a Memorable Visit.
Making the first meeting as unique as possible for your child can help create positive associations with the new baby.
It doesn’t have to be anything too complicated — you just had a baby, after all! Is there a park near the hospital or birthing centre where you’re delivering?
Maybe have your partner check it out with your child before they come to visit the new baby. Or, if there’s a kid-friendly restaurant where they can grab a yummy snack pre- or post-meeting, go for it.
Even a trip to the hospital’s cafeteria or the gift shop to get a toy for the baby can be a super-fun adventure! (Of course, whatever you’re planning, you’ll want to be mindful about the best time of day for your child to meet the baby — so, not when they are tired, hungry, cranky or wanting to be somewhere else.)
A newborn is fragile, and you may be justifiably worried about your toddler.
But pay attention to how you phrase your concerns.
Avoid phrases like “Don’t go too close to the baby” or “Don’t touch”.
Instead, try saying, “The baby is little and needs to be held especially – here, let me show you how to use gentle hands” and show them how to pet the baby gently. This has an added advantage that at later times when your older one starts to get too excited, you can use simple reminders like “gentle hands.”
Have the New Baby “give” a Present to Your Older Child.
You’ve likely heard this suggestion before, and there’s a reason for it — it works! Again, it’s another simple way to help your child see the new baby as a natural, live person and — even better — someone who likes to give gifts.
If your child is old enough to understand that the present isn’t from the baby, say it’s a “Congrats on Being a Big Brother (or Sister)” present. Don’t worry: Simple ideas work here, too.
Snacks, a disposable camera (if your child is old enough to snap photos of the new baby) and books about new siblings are all great options. And if you need book ideas, check out Peter’s Chair by Ezra Jack Keats or Maple by Lori Nichols.
Make Your Child the Center of Attention.
If you’re worried that your child will feel threatened or replaced by the new baby, consider putting your newborn down when your child arrives.
That way, you can focus your attention on your older child and make sure they feel comfortable and loved. Another thoughtful touch? Hang a photo of your older child near your bed so they can see it and know you’re thinking about them.
Give Them a Job to Do.
Look for small ways to involve your older child in caring for your newborn. They can show the baby a toy, sing a lullaby during fussy times and maybe even throw away a dirty diaper or help with feeding (depending, of course, on the age of your older child). What are some of those ways?
Giving your older child a job to do can go a long way toward helping him, or her feel a part of the changes instead of left out. Plus, you just added a brand new baby to your family — you need all the help you can get!
Presents Vs. Presence
Material rewards don’t necessarily have a massive place in positive parenting. The presence of a parent is always a much better alternative to physical presents.
But this is a time when your time may be stretched thin. And you cannot give your older child as much attention as you might like. A few presents may be helpful if timed and chosen well.
For instance, you could have your older child choose a snuggly blanket for your baby as a “welcome to the family” present. And then you could offer a gift for your older one (preferably something that he’s wanted for a long time, but you’ve been holding off on) as a “hello” present from the baby.
Every time visiting family and friends get presents for the little one, make sure it is either shared by the older one or a small gift.
At the very least, take the time to explain to your older child that he received many presents when he was a baby and share stories of the ones he was most attached to.
Your older one may be having a complex task of adjusting to a new situation and cannot be expected to resolve the parity in presents on his own.
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