Preparing Your Toddler for a New Sibling

A new baby means some major changes for the entire family. Children’s reactions can vary from being helpful with diapers or feedings to jealousy, acting out or regressing to baby-like behavior. Having toileting accidents or wanting to drink from a bottle are normal reactions to the stress of having a new baby. Love, reassurance and patience go a long way in helping your child adjust.

Preparing your child for the new baby will help get their bond off to a good start. It is important to set the stage for a good bond between siblings, because their relationship is a lifelong one. They can understand themselves and the world through each other’s eyes throughout their lives. Here are some steps you can take to help ease this big life change.

Before Baby Arrives

Talk about babies

Three to four months before the baby is due, talk to your toddler about the arrival of their new brother or sister. After the big talk, discuss all things newborn: that they sleep a lot, cry, cannot play or crawl (yet!), and need lots of gentle snuggles. Use this time to share stories about when your other child was born or when they were a baby. You might share their baby book with them if you have one. Share pictures of them as a baby, share the story of their birth, and talk about how much they have grown.

There are many books you can check out of the library for toddlers and young children about the arrival of a new brother or sister. Some books about welcoming a new family member can even be customized for your child.

Get your toddler involved

Another way to soothe new-baby worries is to get your child involved.

  • Let them feel the baby kick
  • Make a present for the baby together
  • Come up with a list of baby names and nicknames
  • Let them help decorate the new baby’s space
  • Make or buy “big brother” and “little sister” t shirts
  • Let your toddler pick out a special baby blanket or newborn outfit for baby to wear
Plan ahead for “big changes”

A new baby can throw everyone’s routine for a loop. If your toddler has “big changes” coming up—such as moving to their own room, starting day care, or moving out of their crib—try to work on them ahead of the new baby’s arrival. Rather than pointing out that the changes are because of the baby, point to their own growth: “You’re a big girl now, so it’s time for you to sleep in a big girl’s bed.”

Now That Baby is Here

When you are ready, have your child meet their new sibling. Talk ahead of time and make a plan with them about what to expect. Some kids enjoy making cards and small gifts to bring along if your baby is born at a hospital or birth center.  Prepare your toddler for the quiet hospital environment and what they might experience. It’s not unusual for a child to be quiet or distant when first visiting a hospital— if offered, a sibling tour of the hospital ahead of time can help set the stage for the birth.  When the time comes, they will interact when they are ready.

Many families find that giving their toddler a “baby” of their own to care for helps ease the transition. They can practice feeding, burping and cuddling their baby doll just like you will be caring for their new sibling.

Once home, give the new baby over to your co-parent or another family member so you can spend some extra time with your toddler, and provide extra snuggles if they are open to it. Schedule special time each day to play with your toddler, and add it into their routine. Although a new baby can throw the family routine out of whack, try to keep your toddler’s routine as close to normal as possible. This includes sticking to regular mealtimes, bedtimes, and other activities.

Toddlers are natural-born helpers and involving them in baby care is a great way to spend extra time together and encourage the sibling bond. Here are some “special helper” ideas:

  • Getting diapers or blankets
  • Checking on the baby (practice tiptoeing quietly)
  • Singing songs to the baby (share songs they enjoyed as a baby)
  • Picking out a new outfit for the baby
  • Looking at board books together

New Challenges

The parent/child relationship changes when a new baby enters the picture, and children need time to adjust. Some children may feel resentment toward the new baby—sharing a parent is hard!

As you get used to being a parent again, you may also have some mixed feelings. You may feel torn between spending time with one or the other of them, or feel guilty when you feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day to give your toddler the attention you were able to before the new baby’s arrival. It takes time and patience to find a new normal, so be gentle with yourself, just as you are gentle with your toddler.

Talking with your child about their feelings goes a long way in helping them work through their emotions. You might hear, “I don’t like the baby,” or “Can we take her back to the hospital?” If this happens, tell them you understand how they feel and agree that it’s not always easy to have a baby around. But follow this up with what you do love about the baby and what’s hard for you as the parent (such as night feedings). Kids love stories, so reading stories about children who are also having mixed feelings about their brother or sister will let them know that it’s okay to feel this way.

Your child might need a little extra time to get used to the idea of sharing family time. A little planning—and patience—will go a long way to help make the introduction of your new bundle of joy easier on the whole family.

This article is brought to you by Parenting Now Parenting Educators and authors Amanda Bedortha, Claire Davis, and Lynne Grilley. Parenting Now offers parenting groups and drop-in programs for families with children 0-8, and is passionate about fostering happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now please visit their website (https://parentingnow.org/) or contact us at info@parentingnow.org


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