10 Ways to Help Your Toddler to Adjust to a New Family Member
How will your toddler react to you having a new baby? We spoke to Sasha Romary, Postpartum Expert & Doula, all about how you can help your little one to adjust to another little one.
The toddler years are a time when children see their needs first. To put it bluntly, toddlers are selfish and impatient little people! The dynamic of a family of three allows for this and the change from three to four is one that will turn their little world completely upside down. It is natural for there to be a bit of an adjustment period when you bring home a new baby. The trick is to prepare yourselves and your toddler as much as possible for this huge change and here are some tips on how to make this period as smooth as possible!
- Prepare in advance, but don’t force it!
It is hard not to notice mama’s growing belly. There are some great books that talk about becoming a big sibling but it is not always easy for a toddler to comprehend the reality of their future. Talk about it openly but don’t force it. If your toddler is into the books and the conversation then great, but if you force the topic then they might reject it. Let them come to terms with it and digest the new information over time.
- Maintain their routine
This is a HUGE one. Babies and toddlers thrive on routine so when there is a huge change like a new sibling, it is imperative that their daily schedule stays as close as possible to how it was pre-baby. This means that if daddy was the one taking him to daycare, then daddy should still be taking him to daycare after baby arrives and if mama reads books before bed than do everything in your power to keep this the routine. The less disruptive their schedule is the easier it will be for them to adjust to the change.
- Let them explore
Toddlers can be anything but gentle and you might find yourself jumping up and screaming “no” every time your toddler seems to be a bit too rough with the new baby but the more you encourage them to interact and explore with their new sibling, the easier it will be for them to adjust. They might want to watch you change a diaper or look at the baby’s toes or watch as you breastfeed. All of these should be encouraged.
- Get them involved
Often big siblings want to help take care of the baby. This helps them find their role as the big sibling and allows them to spend some time with you taking care of their baby brother or sister. They can help get diapers (or throw old ones away), help bathe baby or softly pat their head while they nurse. They can help hold a bottle or gently rock a rocker while baby is sitting in it. These are all ways to help your older child embrace their role as the big sibling.
- Expect some regressions
It is very common for older siblings to go through some regressions when baby arrives. If they have been potty trained, they might revert back to diapers or all of a sudden want the pacifier again or even start waking up at night again. 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 where they are no longer the baby.
- Schedule out some one-on-one time
Before baby’s arrival your first-born had a lot of one-on-one time with you. Try to have a little time each day where this is still the case. Whether it is you picking them up from daycare or simply reading a nighttime story to them, make sure there is a designated time during the day where the new baby is napping or in someone else’s arms so that you can focus 100% on your toddler.
- Put that baby down!
When your toddler sees you constantly tending to and holding the new baby, it is common for her to begin to prefer your partner over you as she will associate you and the baby as one and have a hard time finding her place in your world. When you aren’t feeding or soothing the baby, try to put them down on a playmat, bouncer, etc. Not only is this good for baby’s development, but it will show your toddler that the baby is their own person as are you and that you are still available for her.
- Create the link
Refer to the new baby as “your little brother/sister” instead of just by their name. The special relationship that your toddler has with the baby is unique and one that is only theirs. This also helps to include him in the new family dynamic and shows him that the new baby is his just as much as yours. Creating the link between the toddler and the new baby as “his little sister” helps to enforce this special link that they will always share.
- Talk about their feelings openly
Any big change in a toddler’s life can illicit some pretty big emotions. At this age, it is very difficult for a toddler to control these emotions and even harder for them to express how they feel. It is important for you to address and confirm these feelings and help them find the words to express themselves. When a toddler acts out physically, for example, instead of punishing them and telling them “no,” work with them to find the root of the problem and help them to express how they are feeling with words. “It is OK to feel angry and sad, but it is not OK to hit.”
- 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 her space and time to adjust and accept the new normal. Don’t put too much pressure on her to accept it all immediately and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to be able to handle it all at the beginning. It will all happen in time and before you know it, you will hear them both playing and giggling from the other room!
Sasha Romary launched The Modern Mama in 2016 to provide maternity and postpartum support to women worldwide. As a trained postpartum doula, Sasha uses evidence-based information and a practical approach to supporting new parents in preparing for the arrival of a new baby and in the early days of parenthood.
Follow her adventures at @_themodernmama