Tips for helping your toddler adjust to a new sibling
Bringing a baby home when you’ve already got a toddler or older sibling, can be a huge adjustment for everyone. Especially if they have had you all to themselves. Suddenly their world will be turned upside down, with the arrival of a needy intruder, needing you around the clock.
Gone are the days of sleeping ‘while the baby sleeps’ or at least enjoying a few moments of peace and quiet. Lazy mornings spent inside staring at your baby or keeping them from germy toddlers and playgrounds, will be a distant memory! That germy toddler, now lives inside your home and will demand your attention at all times.
Toddlers will generally have you up and at ‘em bright and early each morning, which means you will now have a little newborn in tow, wherever you go.
Prior to your baby’s arrival, you would have been feeling a mix of emotions. Shock if it was a surprise, excitement if it was planned and then that wonderful feeling of guilt as you start realising your time with one will soon be up. ‘Will my toddler still love me?’, ‘Will they get jealous?’, ‘How on earth do I manage two kids on my own all day?’ These are all very valid questions and whilst we want to tell you that it will all be fine (because it will as time goes on), we don’t want to sugar coat things because it will be tough at times!
Like anything, if you are prepared it will help you stay one step ahead. And speak with any parents with more than one kid and they will tell you that it is all about logistics (And coffee!)
Many families go into ‘over preparing’ their little one in the lead up to this important arrival. Like really build it up. They will start telling them they’ll be an amazing big brother or sister on a regular basis (I’m guilty!) or going into the book store and buying every ‘big brother or sister’ book they can find (guilty again!!).
Through her 35 years of helping families bring their babies home, Mothercraft Nurse, Chris Minogue has some very practical and effective tips for helping the new arrival slip nicely into the family. Sure this new baby is still going to feel like an intruder to your toddler but if you are practical and armed with the right info – it will make life easier for all.
Before the baby arrives
It turns out that over-preparing your little one, isn’t going to do you any favours! Chris explains, that whilst toddlers pick up more than we realise, they don’t quite have the concept of time yet. Trying to explain to your toddler about this, months in advance – is like telling them Santa is coming (but it’s only April).
In the weeks leading up to the arrival, your little one will start noticing changes around the house. The baby’s room being put together, tiny baby clothes appearing and even the car seats changing. These are all visual cues that something is about to change and the perfect time to prepare your little one, using simple language and age-appropriate explanations.
Around 2 weeks beforehand (and where logistically possible), it can be helpful to take them for a drive past the hospital. This is when you can simply explain that ‘Mummy is going to come here for a few nights to get the baby.’ They may ask who is going to look after them? You can reassure them that Daddy or Grandma is coming to stay with you. Keep it practical. It is important that their daily activities and routine stays as consistent and ‘normal’ as possible during this time.
At the hospital
Some people like to shower the toddler with gifts to counteract the baby’s arrival but Chris Minogue explains that this can often send the wrong message to the toddler. ‘It’s the baby’s birthday and I get all the gifts?’ What happens when visitors bring gifts for the baby and not the toddler. Or when all the attention is towards the new arrival and not the toddler that thinks it is being celebrated… a meltdown?
Why not simply introduce the baby as part of the family from the very beginning. It’s the baby’s birthday! The toddler will enjoy coming to meet and celebrate the baby… they might even bring along a homemade card.
If you need to feed the baby when the toddler visits, suggest they sit beside you. You should explain that mummy needs to feed the baby and not whip the baby off and put it down. This will work against you when you get home, as the toddler will expect you to put the baby down every time they demand your attention.
Simply explain that ‘Mummy is just feeding the baby and will give you a cuddle when I am finished.’
Whilst it’s pretty cute, it’s probably not a great idea to leave the toddler in charge of pushing the baby…
Bringing your baby home
Try to avoid having to say ‘No. Stop. Don’t’ where you can, as doing so will only lead to a tantrum. Let your toddler explore the baby by touching the hands and feet – but be sure to protect the face. By doing this, they won’t be curious about the baby. The word ‘gentle’ will be enough as this will tell them what you want them to do!
If you need to attend to your toddler, simply place the baby down in the bed. This will let your toddler know that the baby is still around and not being whisked away. They will start to understand (and accept) that this baby is now part of the family.
Role playing and imaginative play is a great way for your little one to make sense of the world. Parents often find the use of a doll or other soft toy can be a great way to help their toddlers prepare for a new baby, whilst also providing some comfort. They will enjoy mimicking your actions by caring for their own ‘baby’ and feel like they have an important role to play.
The ergoPouch doll sleeping bag is not only super cute – it can be a useful tool if your toddlers sleep routine has been disrupted by the arrival of a new brother or sister.
Encouraging them to dress, feed, play and put their doll to sleep, will help with creating a ‘routine’ again. This will give your little one something to focus on while you might be attending to the baby and will get them used to the idea of being gentle and nurturing towards the baby. Too often we dive in with telling them to be gentle and expect them to know what this means – but kids need practical help here. Teaching them how to do it for their baby will help them practice and understand.
Remember, this is a big change for all and your little ones won’t necessarily be best friends straight away! The ’honeymoon period’ generally lasts for around 6 weeks and your toddler will no doubt shower the baby with love. This love can turn very quickly once they realise the intruder isn’t going anywhere. It’s perfectly normal for your little one to start acting out or even start displaying aggressive behaviour.
Try to keep things practical and calm. Have the baby at their level and all enjoy sitting on the ground together during play time. If you are constantly putting the baby out of reach, it may just make their desire to ‘get to the baby’ so much more.
Once your little one realises that the baby is just part of the family and not going anywhere, you will start to enjoy the time together. Toddlers are all about finding their independence, so help them to achieve that. As they get older, they will enjoy being little helpers and going to get the nappy, wipes or baby’s favourite toy.
At the end of the day, they are likely still babies themselves and will still need lots of cuddles and attention too. Be sure to capture plenty of memories of these early weeks with your precious babies, because you’ll look back in no time and wonder where on earth the time went!
Want to know more? We’ve unlocked our ‘Nurturing Sibling Relationships’ video from the Kiindred Expert Series with Chris Minogue – in partnership with our friends at ergoPouch.
You can visit the full Kiindred Expert Series here.
5 tips for parents who want to calm the sibling chaos
Activities for sibling bonding
The Big Sibling Blues