Firstly huge congratulations if you’re preparing for another baby! I’m writing this 4 weeks before my 3rd little one is due, and although I’ve done it all once before I’m find it invaluable to go through all of these tips again!
Juggling, two little ones brings a whole new level of chaos - it is wonderful chaos though! Even though you’ve got a million things to do, one thing you definitely don’t want to overlook is preparing your toddler for baby’s arrival. After all, toddlers aren’t exactly known for their flexibility and willingness to share. Remember that you’ll not only be welcoming a child, but also separating from your toddler for possibly the longest time in their whole life. This is where it becomes important to see things from your toddler’s perspective.
If you can start preparing as early as possible then that’s the best way!
If your toddler is between 1 and 2 years then they may be unaware of what’s coming. But that doesn’t mean you should skip the preparation. Be open with your older child and talk to them about the new baby and what to expect when baby arrives. Your toddler might not totally comprehend what is to come but the more you talk about the new baby and the changes that will take place, the more comfortable with the idea they will be.
If they’re a bit older, say between 2 and 4 years then there are plenty of things you can do to prepare them before the younger sibling arrives. Here are a few things you can do before baby’s even on the scene to make the transition as smooth as possible.
• Visit a friend or relative who has a baby. This is a great way to help even the youngest toddler understand what’s coming, since they’ll be able to actually see and interact with a baby (instead of just your growing bump). During and after the visit, you can explain that soon there will be a baby in your house just like the house you visited. That way your little one can start to imagine a baby in their own home.
• Look through pictures and videos of your toddler when they were a baby. One of the best ways to get your toddler interested in the new baby and to help them understand is to tell them stories about what they were like as a baby, all the presents they received, who came to visit, etc. This will help them understand why the new baby is getting so much attention and to see that they were once totally dependent on Mum and Dad too, just like baby will be at first.
• Spend one-on-one time together. While you want your toddler to be prepared, you also want things to feel as normal as possible throughout the changes by making sure they know you’ll always love them and that they always be very special to you. Make a point to spend one-on-one time with them now and plan to continue to do that once baby arrives.
• Introduce sharing. Once a sibling’s on the scene, sharing will become a big part of your toddler’s life. It’s a tricky concept for a toddler to grasp, especially if they haven’t had to do it before. Be sure to praise any behaviour that resembles sharing; holding up an object to show a playmate even qualifies. Make sure your toddler sees you praising other children who are showing signs of sharing too.
Once the new baby has arrived it is important to introduce your toddler to their younger sibling and get them involved in family life as soon as possible. Here are some ideas.
• Give your toddler an enthusiastic greeting. Prepare for your toddler’s first visit, be it in the hospital or at home. Have the baby either in the cot, or held by anyone other than you so that when your toddler comes into the room for the first time you can give them an enthusiastic greeting and express how very much you’ve missed them. Once you have made them feel like they’re the one thing you’ve been waiting for, you can introduce the new baby. Try saying, ‘look, here’s your baby brother or sister,’ and try to use baby’s name early on to start giving baby their own personality.
• Present your toddler with a gift “from the baby.” Consider having a small, wrapped gift for your toddler to open. Whether or not you want to say it’s from baby is up to you. Some toddlers will logically know that it’s not, others won’t, and most won’t care either way. This is a great way to show your child that they are important. It’s also a great way to keep them happy and entertained for a few minutes, especially if they are visiting yo in hospital.
• Travel home together. If you had your baby in a hospital or birth centre then coming home with an armful of flowers and balloons and a baby in tow is a great way to spark that toddler jealousy. Instead, consider having your toddler meet you at the hospital so you can ride home together as a family. Just be aware that while this arrangement may be good for your toddler, it may be a bit more stressful for you having two little ones in the car at the same time.
• Have your toddler help with baby. When you’re dealing with a baby, an extra set of hands is always helpful, even when they’re toddler hands! One of the best ways to prevent your toddler from feeling pushed aside is to have them help you with baby and approach the situation as a team. Even children as young as 1 can get involved by handing you wipes during nappy changes or helping to find baby’s clothes. When you’re feeding you could invite your toddler to sit with you and read a book together. Your little one can be proud of helping to take care of the baby but also spend quality time with you while doing so.
Though there may always be squabbles, chances are your two children will have a bond that will last a lifetime. And for you, watching that bond grow and develop is a beautiful thing. But remember that it’s your job to nurture that bond and help your little ones build their relationship.
• Teaching your toddler empathy. It’s important to help your toddler understand that the new baby is a person with thoughts, feelings and their very own personality. Even though baby doesn’t do much in those early days and weeks, you can still teach your toddler to see them as a “real” person. A good way of doing this is by talking aloud about what baby might be thinking and feeling. For instance, when baby is crying, you can ask for toddler, “Ooh no, baby is crying. What do you think could be the matter?” There is a lot of research to show that doing this regularly helps toddlers develop emotional intelligence and a deeper sense of empathy.
• Acknowledge your toddler’s negative feelings. What do you do if your toddler brings you your keys and asks if you can drive baby back to the hospital? Relax, as they say, “it’s all a phase”. It’s totally normal for your toddler to feel jealous and angry when baby comes home. Let your child express any negative feelings they may have. Chances are that once they have been allowed to voice those negative feelings, love will have a chance to grow. If you allow you toddler to express themselves, even in a negative manner, then they will feel like a bad person, and those negative emotions begin to build up and up on the inside. So let them express themselves and support them as they work through their emotions.
• Be patient
It will take time for your toddler to adjust to this huge change. Some days will be great and others will be more challenging. Give them space and time to adjust to the new normal. Don’t put too much pressure on you toddler to accept it all right away. It will all happen in time and before you know it, you will hear them both playing and giggling…..and not doubt squabbling from the other room.
• Expect some regressions
It is very common for older siblings to go through some regressions when a new baby arrives. If they have been potty trained, they might revert back to nappies or all of a sudden want their comforter again or even start waking up at night (if they aren’t already that is). While it is best not to give in or encourage this behaviour, try not to be too harsh with your little one as this is just them testing to see where they fit into this new family dynamic.
Most importantly of all, don’t put too much pressure on yourself!
While most parents have images of their children giving each other hugs and kisses, laughing and bath time and playing together, this may well not happen right away. Juggling two kids, yourself, a household and life in general is a lot. We cannot be Super-mum all the time. Some days will be great and other days will be hard. It will take time for you and your family to find a new balance as a family of four or more so relax, go with the flow and you will get there!
Remember the saying "it's all a phase"
Wishing you lots of love and lots of luck!