When you found out you were expecting your second baby, you probably began to fantasize about your children getting along. You may have even imagined them playing with each other, being best friends, and loving one another as only siblings can. However, it’s not unusual for your toddler and their new baby brother or sister to get off to a rocky start.
Here are some ways to help your toddler have a positive experience as they adjust to their new baby brother or sister.
- Give a gift from the newborn to the toddler. It’s like the new baby is saying, “I’ve come to make your life better, not take away from it.” Your toddler sees the many gifts their new sibling is receiving. A new toy for them subtly lets them know they’re not forgotten and they are no less important. You can offer simple gifts like coloring books, a new toy, books, or their favorite treats.
- Let your toddler help in age-appropriate ways. This can begin prior to the birth of their new sibling. Placing infant clothes in drawers, setting up the nursery, putting away silverware, and helping you make up the beds are small ways to help your toddler get into the mindset of giving. When the baby arrives, keep them involved and helping. Toddlers can become anxious they aren’t going to get time with their parents because of all the attention to the new baby. Helping you equates to spending time with you and that can help them adjust to the idea of having a new baby around.
- Celebrate them. Children tend to keep doing what draws attention. Praise them when you notice them being helpful, treating their new sibling kindly, or simply see them making good decisions. Tell them “thank you” when they bring you a new diaper for the baby or clean up after themselves. Let them you’re proud of them for being a good big brother or sister.
- One-on-one time. Find a few minutes each day to spend with your toddler. You can spend that time playing with toys, reading books, or telling stories, making something together—anything they enjoy. You don’t necessarily have to be separated from the baby to accomplish this. While nursing, you can cuddle, tell stories, rub their head, and play. While one parent is tending to the baby, the other can use the opportunity to give your toddler some personal attention. As they look at you and smile, they’re telling you they are glad you’re still their parent too.
- Teach them how to treat their new sibling. They may not truly understand the difference between a baby and a doll. Talk to them and model what being gentle looks like. Explain to them how babies need milk, diapers changed, and to be held with care. Crying may indicate that something is wrong or they are hurting. Talking and modeling will help them understand this is a person who can experience things just like they do.
- Give them space to express their feelings. Just because you do everything “right” doesn’t mean they won’t experience some jealousy, sadness, or confusion. Have them pick out emojis that show how they’re feeling. Ask them questions, like are you happy today? Is your new sibling making you feel good or bad? The opportunity to share will give them a sense of value, connectedness, and security from the person your toddler adores most—you, their parents.
- Provide some consistency, structure, or routine. Keeping a consistent bedtime routine, storytime, or regularly eating meals together helps your child see that the new baby isn’t here to just change everything. It sends the message that we have a new addition to our family. Your toddler didn’t lose when you have a child; they added to their lives.
New siblings can bring joy and a new freshness to the family. However, there are challenges that can arise as you try to help your toddler adjust to not being the only one getting so much of your attention when the new baby arrives. Helping your toddler experience this new season as an addition to their life and not something that takes away from their relationship with you can ease the transition. Change can be difficult for anyone. And don’t forget about your spouse either!