While bringing home your newborn from the hospital may seem like your most stressful day, bringing home baby #2 can take that stress to a whole different level. Instead of just wondering how you’re going to care for this precious package, you’re also wondering how your firstborn is going to handle it. With a little prenatal prep and some hands-on involvement, your toddler may actually look forward to baby’s arrival and not think twice about not being the baby anymore.
Depending on the age of your toddler, you may wait to tell him about the upcoming birth of his sibling. For younger kids that don’t understand how long nine months is, telling them too soon could leave you answering the ‘when’ question everyday for many months. It may also help to wait until there’s proof (ie. a baby bump).
Once your toddler knows about baby, get her involved in setting up the nursery. Since you may be using some of her old baby things, like the crib, you might want to ask her permission before using them to help decrease jealousy and make her feel like she has some control over the situation. On this same note, if your child has to move out of her crib or bedroom to make room for the baby, try to do so with plenty of time to make her feel comfortable in her new surroundings before the new baby takes over her old areas.
Get your toddler excited about being a big sibling by giving him gifts that show off his new title. I recommend the I’m A Big Brother/Sister! books by Caroline Church. Not only do they help get your older child excited, they also talk about how he or she can help once baby arrives, all with adorable illustrations.
Talk to your toddler about how things are going to change but how some things will always stay the same, like how you will still love them just as much. I remember rocking my two year old the night before my planned caesarean and telling him how I would have to focus a lot of attention on his new brother but that I will still love him and spend time with him exclusively every change I got. I think it made both of us feel better.
The First Glimpse
Have your family member, friend or care provider bring your older child by the hospital or birth center after baby is born. Let him see how small and sweet his new sibling is, but also make time to focus on him while someone else holds your newborn. Remember, your toddler’s first reaction might be of shock and surprise, but hopefully by the time you’re home with baby, he’ll have settled into the idea.
Once your finally have all of your children home, it’s important to set aside some one-on-one time for each of them. Even just 15 minutes where your full attention is centered on her can help make your older child less jealous of all the attention baby is getting. Let your toddler choose a game to play or book to read, just don’t talk about the baby (unless she wants to).
Most toddlers will appreciate some responsibility especially when it comes to taking care of their new sibling. Older siblings can make excellent retrievers; retrievers of diapers, bottles, pacifiers, and blankets. Being able to help out with baby can help ease some of the anxiety your toddler may be feeling and help them become proud of being a big sibling. Get them involved in playtime as well. Making the baby laugh goes a long way in making your toddler more comfortable and happy to be a big sibling.
Giving it Time
Sometimes even with careful preparation and procedure, toddlers may still have trouble adjusting to a new baby. Some will act out, others will regress, and some will try to take out their frustrations on their little sibling. Whatever the case, just give it time, don’t push too hard, but continue to try to involve your older child in baby related activities. Never leave your baby alone with your toddler and use praise overload for good behavior towards the baby. Try discussing her feelings about the baby and remind her of all the good things about being a big sibling.
Regression in your toddler is normal when a new baby arrives. If your toddler was potty trained before, there might be some accidents after. Sleeping through the night might take a hit as well. All of this should hopefully get ironed out as everybody gets used to the new routine.
A new baby is an exciting addition to any family, especially if you already have children at home. Preparing your child for the arrival and then involving them in the baby care can go a long way in creating a strong and lasting sibling bond.