How to Prepare Your Toddler for Baby’s Arrival
If you’re preparing for another baby with a toddler in tow—congrats!—you’re probably wondering how you’ll juggle two litte ones at the same time. Having one child can be hard enough, but two brings a whole new level of chaos! Even though you’ve got a mile-long to-do list, 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. And soon, he’ll have to share his favorite thing in the world—you! Start preparing as early as possible. Here, we’ll outline things you can do before baby’s even on the scene to make the transition as smooth as possible. You’ll also learn how to introduce your toddler to baby and how to encourage sibling bonding once baby’s home.
Once you’re far enough along in your pregnancy to know baby is healthy and viable, it’s totally fine to start talking to your toddler about his future sister or brother. If your toddler is on the young side—between 1 and 2—she may be pretty clueless about what’s coming. But that doesn’t mean you should skip the preparation. If she’s a bit older—between 2 and 4—there are plenty of things you can do to prepare her to welcome a younger sibling. Below are a few things that may help your toddler cope when baby arrives.
•Start teaching your toddler to wait. The no. 1 thing your toddler will need when the new baby arrives: patience! We’re not suggesting your toddler should wait without complaint all the time, but if he’s used to you being at his beck and call for every demand, it will be an adjustment. Allana Robinson, parenting effectiveness coach and child behavior strategist at AllanaRobinson.com suggests, “When your toddler asks you to do something, progressively have him wait for longer periods of time. Get him used to waiting before baby arrives so it isn’t baby’s ‘fault’ when he doesn’t immediately get his juice or when he has to wait while you nurse baby before you can play trains.”
•Visit a friend who has a baby. This is a great way to help even the youngest toddler understand what’s coming, since she’ll be able to actually see the baby (instead of just your growing bump). After the visit, you can explain that soon, your home will have a baby of its very own, just like the home you visited. This will get the wheels turning in your toddler’s mind, so she can start to imagine a baby in her home.
•Show pictures and videos of him when he was a baby. One of the best ways to help your toddler understand that he won’t be playing second fiddle forever is to pull out his baby book or show him some pictures and videos of when he was an infant. This will help him to understand that once, he was totally dependent on Mom and Dad too, just like baby will be at first. Robinson says, “This helps your toddler begin to understand that infancy isn’t a permanent thing, which is a very difficult and abstract concept for young children.”
•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 — and that means making sure she knows you’ll always love her and that she’ll always be very special to you. Make it a point to spend one-on-one time with her now and plan to continue to do that once baby arrives too.
•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 he hasn’t had to do it before. Be sure to praise any behavior 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.
When that “it’s time!” moment finally arrives, remember that you’ll not only be welcoming a child, but also separating from your toddler for possibly the longest time in his whole life. This is where it becomes important to see things from your toddler’s perspective, says Laura Markham, MD, clinical psychologist and author of the book Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life. “You’re excited and fulfilled by the birth of your second child, but your toddler has no real reason to be thrilled about a sibling,” she says. “Newborn babies are very underwhelming for a toddler; they can’t talk, they can’t play, so why would a toddler be excited about a baby, especially now that they’re vying for your time and attention?”
•Give your toddler an enthusiastic greeting. Markham suggests being ready for your toddler’s visit to the hospital. Have the baby either in the bassinet, or held by anyone other than you. When your toddler comes into the room for the first time, give him an enthusiastic greeting and express how very much you’ve missed him. After all, you’ve been away from home for an extended period of time, which probably feels like forever to your toddler. After you make him feel like he’s the one thing you’ve been waiting for, you can introduce him to the baby. Try saying, ‘look, here’s your baby brother or sister,’ and start using baby’s name early on to start giving baby their own personality.
•Present your toddler with a gift “from the baby.” Consider bringing along a small, wrapped gift for your toddler to open in the hospital. 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. As Markham says, “I’ve never seen a toddler refuse a gift.” This is a great way to show your child that he’s important. And—bonus—it’s also a great way to keep him happy and entertained while visiting.
•Have your toddler ride home with you. Coming home from the hospital with an armful of flowers and balloons with 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. After all, being tag-teamed by two screaming little ones on your way home from the hospital is less than ideal.
Though there may be squabbles at the beginning, 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 kids build their sibling relationship. The key to this? According to Markham, it’s empathy, empathy, empathy.
•Teach your toddler empathy toward baby. Despite feeling completely sleep deprived, your first mission is to help your toddler understand that baby is a person with thoughts, feelings and her very own personality. Even though baby doesn’t do much in those early days and weeks, you can still teach your toddler to see baby as a “real” person.
Citing a study on siblings that was mentioned in the 1982 book Siblings: Love, Envy and Understanding, Markham suggests that you give baby a personality by wondering aloud what baby might be thinking and feeling. For instance, if baby is crying and your toddler is present, you can ask him, “Hmm, baby is crying. I know she’s not hungry because I just fed her. What do you think could be the matter?” Doing this regularly has been shown to help toddlers develop emotional intelligence and a deeper sense of empathy.
•Have your toddler help with baby. When you’re dealing with an infant, 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 him help you with baby and approach the situation as a team, instead of always having your toddler wait for you while you tend to baby’s needs. Even children as young as 1 can get involved; have him hand you wipes during diaper changes or help him support baby’s bottle. If you’re nursing baby, invite your toddler to sit with you and watch a show or read a book together.
•Make baby wait sometimes too. Markham says you can help your older child not feel like he’s always coming second by sometimes telling baby that she needs to wait because your older child needs you. Of course, this only works when baby is happy and quiet; not when she’s screaming. For your toddler’s sake, explain to baby that you can’t pick her up at the moment because you’re busy taking care of him. Follow by explaining that everyone needs to wait sometimes, even though it’s hard. Your toddler will begin to see that things work both ways, which will foster a sense of fairness.
•Acknowledge your toddler’s negative feelings. What do you do if your toddler brings you your purse and asks if you can drive baby back to the hospital? Relax—as they say, this too shall pass. It’s totally normal for your toddler to feel jealous and angry when baby comes home.
“Let your child express any negative feelings he has about the baby,” Markham says. “Once he’s allowed to express those negative feelings, love has a chance to grow. If you don’t validate his feelings, and don’t allow him to express himself, even in a negative manner, he’ll feel like a bad person, and those negative emotions begin to build up on the inside.”