A new sibling means some major changes for your toddler. From the toddler’s perspective, once the ruler of the roost, they now have to share you with a tiny, crying, pooping machine. Not fair, right?!
You may have heard that it’s going to be a bumpy road as you adjust to your newest addition, but planning ahead can help! There are things you can do now before baby arrives to help settle the transition for your toddler, and who knows? They may even be ready to welcome baby right along with you!
What’s the deal with babies anyway?
When you told your toddler that they were going to be a big brother, they likely formed an idea in their mind about what it would be like. Their vision probably included a walking, talking playmate to go on fun adventures with. One way you can help them form a more realistic picture is by spending some time around others with babies. Especially if your toddler hasn’t spent much time around other babies, it will be helpful to get in some baby time before their sibling arrives. Do you have friends or family with babies? Plan some special visits where you can point out how baby is taken care of.
It could also be helpful for your toddler to see you hold the baby. Seeing their mom or dad holding their sibling can stir up a lot of emotions: confusion, jealousy, or resentment. In small doses, give your toddler a chance to see you in this new role.
The ABCs of babies
A few months before baby arrives, select some age-appropriate books for you and your toddler to read together that introduce the concepts of siblings, caring for babies, etc. Some great titles include:
Get up close with some baby animals
There’s nothing a toddler loves more than baby animals—next to mom and dad, of course! Visiting some baby chicks or kittens could be a great way to teach gentle touches and calm behaviors around the world’s littlest creatures. You can set a good example by handling the pet with care and using gentle touches. The “one finger touch” is one way some parents have found minimizes grabbing, patting, and scratching. Use the moment to communicate the best ways to behave around a newborn: “Just like we use a quiet voice around the kitten so we don’t scare her, that’s how we need to talk when your brother is born.”
What a doll!
If your toddler enjoys dolls, why not use a baby doll to teach the ins and outs of caring for a new baby? You can show your child how parents bathe, dress, swaddle, and change a diaper. Let them be involved in the practice and use encouraging language: “You are bathing baby so gently. You are going to be a wonderful big brother!” When the big day comes, your toddler will be a pro at getting diapers and checking on the baby quietly.
You can also use baby doll to give an anatomy lesson in newborns: their umbilical cord, scrunched up legs, heavy head, soft spot, and delicate neck.
Toddlers still need a lot of help when it comes to grooming, feeding, and play setup. Your time is going to feel divided, but teaching your toddler to do some things independently can empower them and give you a little break. Before baby arrives, work on teaching your toddler to:
- Put their dirty clothes in the hamper
- Wash their hands and face
- Choose their own outfit
- Play alone for 15-30 minutes
- Put trash in the wastebasket
- Wipe up spills
- For older toddlers, practice using buttons and zippers, as well as dressing themselves.
Some parents like to make a special “Big Brother, Big Sister” present to give their toddler at the hospital. It doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy: new coloring books, a stuffed animal, books, puzzles—all can make your toddler feel special and loved during this new stage in their life.
Another idea is to buy or make “Big Sister/Brother” and “Little Sister/Brother” shirts. Take a picture of you holding both of them, and put it next to your toddler’s bed or laminate it so your toddler can carry it around and show it to people as a way to embrace their new role.
As you are setting up your “new normal” with your new little one and your toddler, it is important to set aside special time every day with your toddler. Ten minutes of uninterrupted, focused child-led play each day will go a long way in preserving the special relationship you have with your toddler.
With forethought, planning and a bit of effort, you can help your toddler adjust to their new place in the family without feeling like they are being replaced. The key is to encourage independence while keeping your arms open to welcome them when they need you. You have a big responsibility in providing your toddler what they need, and also caring for your new baby. Good for you for thoughtfully planning this transition for all of you!
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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