Adjusting to a new baby sister or brother is a big transition for a toddler. Just think of all the things that surprised you as a new parent, even if you read all the books. Toddlers have no clue what to expect.
Currently in this season of my life I’m sorting through how to help my toddler adjust to becoming a big brother. As we navigate this transition, here is what I’m doing to support him:
1. Setting Expectations of a New Baby
Toddlers have no clue what newborns are like. In their minds, they might be expecting the baby can play, talk and eat right away. It’s helpful to talk about what babies are like – that they sleep throughout the day, they likely are up all night, they can’t eat solid food, or walk or talk. There are many books for toddlers on becoming a big brother or sister to help the conversation. Our post on Toddler Transitions has other ideas on talking through change.
One important piece that toddlers can’t anticipate is also how fragile babies are. Prior to the baby arriving, you can give your toddler a baby doll, and talk and practice gentle touch.
2. Plan the Introduction
Will your toddler be coming to the hospital or meeting the baby at home? In her book “How Toddlers Thrive: What Parents Can Do Today for Children Ages 2-5 to Plant the Seeds of Lifelong Success,” author Tovah P. Klein has excellent recommendations for parents on this first introduction. First, she recommends taping a picture of the toddler on the side of the baby’s bassinet. When the toddler arrives, tell them that the baby has been looking at the picture. It makes it about the toddler. Second, the baby can “give” a gift to the toddler. Just something small, perhaps a stuffed animal or matchbox car.
3. Provide the Toddler Opportunities to Help
Another way to make your toddler feel engaged and included is to provide them opportunities to help. Then rather than seeing you off with the baby doing your own thing, they will feel like they are a part of it all.
Here are some ideas of ways a toddler can jump in and help:
- Gathering diapers or wipes for diaper changes
- Bringing you a blanket or burping cloth
- Helping you gently burp baby after feedings
- Keeping the sleepy newborn awake during feedings by tickling the baby’s feet
- Laying next to the baby and encouraging them during tummy time
- “Reading” to the baby or picking out books for the baby
- Giving the baby a special nap time or good night kiss on their forehead to help baby sleep
4. Make it All About them: Feed the Toddler Ego
Toddlers are very self-focused – which is fine, it’s a stage. I try using that to my advantage and “feed the ego” – by that I mean I tell my toddler how much the baby likes him. Since doing this, his interest and engagement with her has definitely improved. And really, the baby is focused on him. But it is hard for him to pick that up.
What kinds of things do I say to him? Stuff like:
“The baby is looking at you – she loves watching what you are doing”
“I think the baby missed you while you were at school”
“The baby would probably love it if you picked out a book because she really likes the ones you pick”
“She just thinks you are the coolest”
5. Spending One-On-One Time with Your Toddler
This is really hard, because you have such little time and energy after having a baby. I struggled to do this the first month, but since spending more time just playing one-on-one with my toddler, his mood has been better and I’ve seen less tantrums.
Those early weeks it might be just sitting on the couch for 10 minutes reading, passing the baby off to your partner or family to be able to do the bath time routine, or taking them out on a quick walk around the block.
Now that we are on a *little bit* of a schedule, I spend time focused on playing with my toddler during my daughter’s first nap. It means my house is a mess, and I’m not getting as much done. But I remind myself, as a second time mom, that it will get better and better, and I’ll manage in the future to figure out how to manage more. It’s fine to have a season where things are a mess and left undone.
A newborn is always a transition for everyone in the family. Have you gone through helping your toddler with a new sibling? What worked for your family?