Helping your toddler adjust to a new baby in the house
By Cecilia Matson, MA, Child Development and Parenting Specialist
Galoop – Child Development Classes for Babies and Toddlers and Expert Advice for Caregivers
Coolidge Corner, Brookline, MA
If you have your second child on the way: first of all, congratulations! Second of all: it is completely normal to feel anxious about becoming a parent again. I am sure many questions are going through your mind: how I am going to be able to give enough of my time to both of my children? How am I going to manage with two young children? How is my new baby going to receive the same individual attention I was able to give my first child? How is my toddler going to react to having a sibling? How should a help him in this transition to make it easier for him? How am I going to able able to keep the schedule and the activities my toddler is used to? How is it possible to love someone else as much as I love my child?
All of these questions will answer themselves in time, but for today, let’s focus on something that you can begin with right away: helping your toddler adjust to your growing family, so the transition goes as smoothly as possible. As a mom of two and a child development specialist, I compiled some of my best suggestions to maintain a happy home as your family grows!
Before the arrival of the new baby
- Make sure you have a predictable routine established for your toddler, and try and stick to it as much as possible when the new baby is born. A predictable routine gives your toddler a sense of security, a feeling of competence (they know what happens next), and a sense of time. A predictable routine will help when adjusting to the big change that a new baby will bring to your toddler’s life.
- Be careful with major changes around his habits and schedule. Whenever possible, it might be wise to avoid big changes, like moving to a toddler bed, starting potty training, starting a new school, getting a new babysitter, etc.
- Have your toddler play with baby dolls and do pretend play with him talking about the baby crying, changing diapers, nursing a lot, or needing many bottles, etc. Both boys and girls will benefit from this kind of symbolic play.
- Let your child hear you “talk to your belly” about her “virtues”: while your toddler is there, tell your baby bump how good your toddler is at picking up toys, at helping Mommy, at brushing teeth, at getting dressed, and so on, many times during the day. Make sure you mention how the baby will have to learn all those things, and “wait until she teaches you!” The goal is to build your toddler’s confidence, demonstrate to her that we notice all of the big-girl things she can do, and get her excited to step into the big-sister role.
- Practice some patience waiting with your toddler. Dr Karp, in The Happiest Toddler on the Block, suggests to almost give your toddler what she is asking for but then say “Wait! Wait! Just a second!” and turn away and pretend you are involved in something else. After a few seconds, turn around, give her what she wanted, and say “good waiting!” Teaching patience will come in handy when you are busy changing or feeding your newborn.
When baby arrives
- If possible, plan on your toddler getting a special gift/toy “from the baby” when he meets the new baby for the first time. It does not have to be big or expensive at all!
- Talk beforehand to grandparents, family members, and other friends visiting the new baby, and make sure they lavish attention on your toddler as well as the new arrival.
- Explain to your toddler that everyone likes new babies, and they coo and hold them, and that is what grown ups do with new babies. But also explain that adults also like bigger kids and love great big sisters and brothers too!
- Hold your toddler, sit next to her, and pay attention to her while visitors are with the baby.
- Give tasks to your toddler to help with the baby. She can help you by bringing you diapers and wipes while you change the baby, helping to choose outfits, pushing the stroller, and so on.
- Catch toddlers being good, and give them praise. Focus on positive behaviors: “Look at you getting dressed all by yourself!” “I like it when you read your books quietly.”
- Make small periods of time to spend special time alone with your toddler: bedtime routines and bedtime stories (or reading a book at any time of day) are some examples. Even small periods of time during the day go a long way.
- Remind your child that the things you two do together is a “big kid” play time that tiny babies cannot participate in because they’re too small.
- Put into words the feelings that your toddler is experiencing: Mommy has to feed the baby so often, all the time, it is so hard! The baby cries a lot, the baby has to be held a lot. Daddy needs to spend a lot of time taking care of the baby and you have to play by yourself!
- Role play with your toddler: “Do you want to be my baby for a little while? Come and sit on my lap and let me hold you and cuddle.”
This transition in your growing family will bring challenges, but the good news is that a sibling is one of the best gifts you will ever give your first child! Not only they will have someone to eventually play with, but they’ll also get daily lessons in how to share toys, and, even more importantly, our attention. Sharing our attention teaches them about independence, living with others in a family, and responsibility towards a sibling, and these are all wonderful things for your toddler to learn!
Finally: if you’re still trying to decide when to have your second child, check out some insights on spacing your family here at Spilling the Beans!
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