Introducing Your New Baby to Your Toddler

What do we need to be mindful of?

One small person in a family is a very different arrangement than two, or more children. When a new baby comes into the mix, dynamics change and everyone needs to shuffle around until new positions are found.

What is That?

During your pregnancy, talk about the new baby and what they will need.  Don’t keep the baby a surprise. Toddlers, like adults, do best with a little forewarning.

Talk about the new baby having similar needs to them – feeding, nappies and their own special bed.  Frame your conversations in a positive, matter of fact way, and let your toddler know that when they were small, they needed lots of your time and care as well.

Be Prepared

Toddlers often feel left out when all the attention is going to the new baby. They don’t understand why the status quo has changed. No matter how well intentioned you’ve been in giving them a sibling, don’t expect them to be as delighted as you’d like them to be.

Don’t ‘push’ the new baby onto your toddler. Give them time to adjust to the new normal.

Ten Top tips for new Baby + Toddler = Happy Families

  1. Stay calm and generally positive.
  2. Try not to feel apprehensive about your toddler’s possible responses. They may be fine, if they’re not, they’ll learn to be.
  3. Speak with your partner about how you’re going to manage things.
  4. Consistency of approach is always valuable in parenting.
  5. Don’t react too quickly as your toddler learns what is a gentle touch.
  6. Toddlers love attention and quickly work out the best way to get it. Hitting the baby or being rough are normal reactions. Your responses will pave the way for what’s acceptable.
  7. Decide what behaviour you’re going to react to, and try to ignore the small things.
  8. Understand that your toddler is showing you, in the only way they know how, that they can’t understand the family changes. Tantrums are a common reaction from toddlers who can become overwhelmed by big feelings.
  9. Consider giving your toddler their own ‘little baby’ to care for.
  10. A baby doll with its own bath and tiny clothing can be a great distraction. Role model careful holding, and show your toddler how to talk affectionately to their own baby.
  11. Aim for a calm and simple life for a few months after your new baby is born.
  12. If possible, avoid big changes such as moving house, renovating, or a quick return to work. Let everyone settle.
  13. Aim to spend some one on one time with your toddler.
  14. Go for walks, read stories, play games – let your toddler take the lead in their play and be there to support them.
  15. Show your toddler photos of when they were a baby.
  16. Talk with your toddler about what they were like and how you cared for them. Remember, avoid comparing your toddler with the baby. Even at this early stage, competition between siblings is best avoided.
  17. Let your toddler know they are special, and have unique qualities.
  18. Talk with them about what they can do as the older brother or sister, a very special role.
  19. Aim to keep as many of your toddler’s usual routines as possible.

Routines help to boost their feelings of security and help to prevent emotional reactivity. The same old, same old routines are very reassuring to toddlers.

Remember

  • Always supervise your toddler when they are close to the new baby. Toddlers can be rough and spontaneous – that’s a normal part of their makeup.
  • It’s helpful to include toddlers in care giving. Let them help dry the baby after bathing and fetch a clean nappy.  At first, this may all be very exciting for your toddler but quickly lose its charm. Don’t rely on a long term helper.
  • Expect some regression in your toddler’s behaviour when their new sibling arrives. Emotional meltdowns, changes in sleeping, going back to needing nappies are all normal changes.
  • Praise your toddler’s positive behaviour and try to catch them when they’re being ‘good’. Describe what you like and want to see more of, e.g. “You were so gentle when you stroked your sister’s arm”.
  • Don’t blame the baby for not being able to do activities. It’s easy to slip into language such as “we can’t go now, the baby’s sleeping”. A good alternative is to say “We’ll go when we’ve finished our jobs” or “The park isn’t open yet”.
  • Don’t overact when your toddler seems to deliberately do something they know they’re not allowed to do. This is likely to be purely about getting your attention.
  • It will pay to respect your toddler’s special toys and not share them with the new baby. Make sure your toddler knows they still have their special things.

More Tips to Help your Toddler Adjust to Their new Sibling

  • Avoid thinking you need to explain or justify the new baby to your toddler. New mothers especially, can feel a sense of guilt or betrayal in having another baby. You don’t need your toddler’s approval.
  • Don’t try and compensate by buying your toddler lots of treats and presents. This risks them learning that discomfort is appeased by something new and shiny. Feelings are best managed by feeling them. Try to name your toddler’s feelings e.g. “Are you feeling sad?” and offer them a cuddle.
  • Try not to make the new baby the topic of every conversation. Just try to act normally, your toddler will follow your lead.
  • Be prepared, sometimes, to feel torn between which of your children need you most. There will be times when you need to focus fully on one and the other child, big or small, needs to wait.
  • Don’t be surprised if your toddler doesn’t seem affected by the new baby’s introduction to the household. Some toddlers really don’t seem to know what to do and just carry on as if everything’s the same as it was. Though having a new baby will be totally life changing for you, for your toddler it may just be another day.
  • Appreciate that these periods of adjustment are a necessary life skill. Your toddler needs to learn that not every feeling is comfortable. But you are there to support them.  

Don’t compare your feelings for the new baby with how you feel about your toddler. Relationships are unique.  

Though it’s not often talked about, we can feel very differently about each of our children. You’ve know your toddler for much longer than the new baby. Give yourself time to love.

Written for Nourish by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse.

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