How Do I Help My Toddler Adjust to a New Sibling?

This morning my 18 month old woke up and immediately looked for his baby sister. He looked first at her and then gave me a focused look using his mouth to imitate the sucking motion she makes when she eats. Evidently he was convinced she was hungry! He also proudly showed me her tiny toes and nose, and this brought such joy to my heart! His baby sister was born four weeks ago. True, at first he wasn’t a big fan, but here we are a few weeks later. Two months ago I was asking myself, “How do I help my toddler adjust to a new sibling?”. Today, here is the list of the top ideas I have collected for a smooth transition. A huge thank you to our contributor moms who contributed substantially to this list!  

Talk Ahead of Time
Before my daughter was born I taught my son the word “baby”. He didn’t learn to say it, but at least he was used to me pointing out babies and saying the word. Once his sister was born, he was saying “baby” within two days. My son was only 18 months old. In preparing for a baby, talking with big brother is critical! You can discuss all the ways he will be able to help with baby – for example, picking out clothes for the baby to wear, brushing baby’s hair…and more. When you are around a young baby, point the baby out to your toddler and tell him things like, “Isn’t this a nice little baby? Look how little this baby is?”. The goal is to help your toddler realize that little babies are nice and in no way a threat to them.

Read a Special Book Together
Neeley, one of our Mommy Medicine moms found a book about getting read for a new sibling, and then substituted the name of the older sibling in the story with her toddler’s name. While reading, you can work in useful teaching points like how gentle (insert your toddler’s name) is when he hugs baby to try and preempt the hug-tackle! Another fun idea is reading to your toddler from his own baby book and looking at his baby pictures.

Create a Book
You can also create a special, little book for your toddler about his new sibling, and then read it together for a couple of months before baby is born. You don’t have to be an artist! Printer paper stapled in half with colored pencil illustrations will work fine! Include pages showing you and your toddler preparing for baby, where baby will be born, who will stay with your toddler while you are  gone, where baby will sleep, how baby will eat, what your toddler will do to help with baby, and how much you will love both your toddler and baby. One of our moms, Megan, made simple books like these for each of her children. They soon became favorites!

Don’t Wait Till Baby is Born to Switch Cribs or Car Seats
Toddlers are often possessive, but they also have short memories. If the toddler is moving up to a bigger car seat to free up the infant one, make the switch at least two months before baby comes. The same goes for the crib and even breastfeeding. After a couple months your toddler won’t feel like his old car seat and crib or your breasts, for that matter, are still “his”.

Be Positive
Don’t create unnecessary drama with careless words of your own. Avoid any comments suggesting the baby will be threat to your toddler by taking all mommy’s time, breaking all the toys or taking your toddler’s bed. The truth is this baby is a precious gift, and you are giving your child a playmate and a friend for life! Tell your toddler how fun having a baby around will be and that he is going to be the best big brother ever! Also, try not to feel guilty or afraid your toddler will feel replaced. For some reason, my struggle was to not replay scenes from Boss Baby in my head. It sounds so funny now, but it wasn’t then! What makes it even funnier is I myself am one of eleven siblings. I never felt threatened when a new sibling was born. It was always exciting and wonderful!

Explain New Routines to Your Toddler
A really practical way of helping your toddler connect with his new sibling is to explain what you are doing with the baby as you do it. “See I am putting baby’s socks on. She is too little to do it herself.” Lindsay also explains why the baby acts like she does.Your older kids are full of curiosity and these make for wonderful teaching moments.  For example,“The baby cries to tell us she needs something. What do you think she needs right now?”

Include Your Toddler in Caring for Baby
As much as possible, let your toddler help you with “big kid” jobs like picking out outfits, handing you a diaper, holding the bottle. This helps your toddler feel special and realize how important he is to his new sibling.

Spend Quality Time with Your Toddler
When your baby goes down for a nap or is being cared for by someone else, use every opportunity to love on your bigger baby! Give your toddler the hugs and snuggles he needs and make sure he knows this is one-on-one time. Aimee calls it Anika-Mommy time or a Priyasha-Mommy date. During a tiring season with her two, four and six year olds, Aimee’s oldest was acting out terribly. Finally, one night she decided to take Anika out to the Dollar Store and yogurt after. That short hour together made all the difference. The 9-year-old tantrums were gone. All this fourth grader wanted was a little bit of one-on-one attention from mom. And the beauty is that as mom we get to enjoy it just as much. Often you will find something special to do with your older child that can even continue into the school years. Your activity can be as simple as rocking and singing a couple of songs, getting the mail together, or even making a sandwich. The point is that the toddler has your undivided attention.

Take Advantage of Special Moments
After a first look, my son spent the first few days we were home from the hospital ignoring his baby sister as best he could. He would snuggle against me with his back to the baby, so he couldn’t see her. I would encourage him several times a day to look at the baby and show him her tiny toes and hands. I would stroke her soft hair and invite him to do the same.

Three days later, my husband and I were deep in conversation when my son suddenly toddled over leaned against me and tried to pat his baby sister. All of a sudden his little heart was ready to focus on getting used to this little baby. When your children begin to connect, notice and applaud these steps. They will be encouraged and progress is being made!

Praise Your Toddler
When you catch your toddler showing interest in the baby and being gentle, praise him. “You are doing so well being gentle!! Look at her looking at you; she loves you. You are going to be the best big brother ever!” Kiddos love praise! I find that pointing out details will especially encourage them and it shows that you are paying attention to them. “Honey, I noticed how quickly you looked for her pacifier when she started crying. That was so thoughtful and so diligent of you!” You will have a glowing toddler.

Toddlers are affected by our emotions and expectations as parents. Families grow. It’s a natural part of life, and toddlers are hardwired with the desire to accept and love new siblings. Watching the sibling bond develop between young siblings is one of the sweetest experiences ever.  And, remember that your kiddos will mimic you in attitude and action. The calmer you are, the calmer they will be. You’ve got this! Relax and enjoy the process.

Mommy Medicine is a group of moms that love sharing tricks, tips and strategies with our fellow moms, so send us your mommy questions you would like to see as the subject of a blog. We would love to hear from you!  Subscribe here to receive posts straight to your inbox!

Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (4/24/2018) David Werner (Flickr)

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