Welcoming a new baby to the family when you have a toddler is a joyous occasion, but can also be fraught with trepidation and worry.
With the help of some tried and true tips, the transition will be more manageable and you will better understand what your little big sibling is feeling.
1. Don’t spill the beans too early.
It’s exciting to discover that you’re expecting again and even more exciting to share the news. Great, share it! But not with your toddler. Their limited sense of time means that telling them of this exciting event months early creates worry and anxiety.
I suggest waiting as long as you can, and then giving concrete details. “After spring comes and there are new flowers, then the baby will be here.” Waiting until the last month to tell them will keep the whole family happier.
2. Reassure your child: ‘You are my first baby forever.’
It may sound exciting to you that your toddler will be a big brother or sister, but your child has no idea what that means. Toddlers are just figuring out what being “me” is. And now they have a new role: big brother or sister.
Instead of focusing on that, remind your child that he will always be your baby, even with a new baby here. He can’t hear it enough! Also remind yourself just how little your older one is. Three-four-five-six. They are still new to life in many ways. And they need to know you will still be there for them, in all their baby needs.
3. Expect regression.
Toddlers regress. This can be before the baby comes or after (or both!). It’s their way of communicating that they’re not sure what is going on. More clinging, toileting setbacks, increased whining or tantrums and sleep disruptions are common.
Do your best to remember how little your older one is and avoid control battles as best you can. Instead, bring them closer—they need you more. Extra hugs, cuddles and “babying” them can go a long way in helping them move through this major change in your family.
4. Make it ALL about the older one.
“Hey! Your baby was looking for you, wondering where you are.” “Look, baby! Your sister is back, she came home from school.” Presents delivered to the door? Let your bigger one open them and play with toys, read books and explore the other goodies in the box. You’ll be grateful for friends who remember to send a big-sibling gift, too.
5. Jealousy is normal.
We expand our families with the idea of having siblings who love each other and are friends for life. That will happen. Later. For now, having a new baby can bring out love in your toddler but also jealousy and a whole mix of feelings.
Try to recognize the anger and confusion your child is feeling (“It is so frustrating when mommy has to feed the baby again!”). It will help them handle those complex emotions. Recognize her need to be with you: “I will change baby’s diaper so fast so I can come back and read you a book.” It helps her feel understood.
6. Make your child Mommy’s sidekick.
Young children like to help. Bring your toddler onto the “management” side with you by giving her simple tasks. Let her bring you a diaper for the baby, or hold the baby’s toy while you get him into the car seat. These empowering moments give your firstborn a way to be part of the action and to be “mama’s little helper.”
7. Grab even the smallest moments of alone time.
It can be hard to manage two. Small pockets of time that are solely for you and the older one can go a long way. A few minutes reading a book can help your child feel connected to you. Label that time, “It is only mommy and (child’s name) reading now. No baby here.” Your child will know he has something special with you.
8. Ask for help from everyone who will give it.
A second baby is an adjustment, a joy and a big change. You may be someone who likes to do it all yourself, but now is not the time for that. Meals, free babysitting, someone to take your child to the park, groceries dropped off: Accept help. You can return the favor in the future.
9. Let go of perfection.
Mamas can be hard on themselves. I encourage you instead to go easy on yourself.
As you let go of perfection, you will relax more and find greater joy in being with your two bundles of joy. Dishes can remain dirty, bedtime may have to vary a bit. But at the end of the day, you are a mama of two and you are doing it!
Pro tip: The audiobook version of How Toddlers Thrive: What Parents Can Do Today for Children Ages 2-5 to Plant the Seeds of Lifelong Success is now available! (Foreword by Ms. Sarah Jessica Parker.)