“Who is that new baby’s mum and dad?” asked a three-year-old boy, the son of two clients of mine, who had just welcomed their second child into the world.
His parents were so excited to have their first born son visit his new baby sister, they had placed a huge wrapped-up truck next to the new baby for him with a card that read “To Jack, from your new baby sister Imogen”.
They were taken aback when Jack demanded to know who the parents were. In that moment, they experienced for the first time the difficulties that can come from introducing a new child into the family.
A toddler does not need a present from the baby to feel secure or to accept the new baby. New families tend to overdo the ‘present’ business from the new baby to the toddler, and honestly, the toddlers are rarely very interested in the present. I have seen many new trucks sitting in the corner of the room while the toddler plays with the wrapping paper. More often than not, older kids are not particularly interested in their new present- nor their new baby sibling.
It’s not hard to see why. After all, how would you feel if another adult who you’d never met moved into your home? You’d have lots of questions, lots of varying emotions, and likely be a bit suspicious of the newcomer. A toddler, however, does not have the developmental capacity to ask questions, and the only way he can demonis by screaming, hitting, crying and sometimes regressing in such things as toilet training.
All this is normal behaviour. Here are a few basic steps to follow to help the little one – and yourself – better cope with the situation.
Firstly, remember that toddlers do not have the developmental capacity to be jealous – that is a learned behaviour – and they do not understand how or why their world has changed, and how to express their feelings about that. To help a sibling adjust to a newborn, I would do a few basic things such as…
Lots of cuddles
Toddlers need attention, they need a lot of it, and they need it NOW. Asking for his cuddles, rather than waiting for him to seek them out, will make him feel more secure, and (eventually), he’ll get sick of all the attention and go and do his own thing.
Ask him to come to you for a cuddle rather than saying “no” to everything he does. Have a few tricks up your sleeve to distract him while you are sitting and feeding the new baby- a small book you can read to him, perhaps, or a game (You will quickly understand the meaning of ‘multi-tasking’).
While you feed the new baby, have your toddler sit up next to you. Remember not to push the friendship with the new baby-their relationship will develop in its own time. In the meantime, your toddler needs lots of love and attention from his parents.
Talk to him – explain what is happening
Ask him to help bath his sibling. When the baby is crying, teach him how to gently pat and comfort the baby. Older siblings love to kiss their new baby’s on the top of their heads. Be sure to let him know what he can and cannot do with the baby! As parents, we are teachers. We need to help our children learn what’s acceptable and what’s not, but too often, we have unrealistic expectations about exactly what a toddler of two to three years of age is emotionally and developmentally capable of doing.
How your child learns to adapt to a new baby within the home sets his emotional pattern for how he will get on with others in his life. He may find the new situation overwhelming, and by talking to and reassuring him, he will learn that you are ok- and when you are ok, he will be ok! Tell him you love him till you’re blue in the face. It sounds like a no-brainer, but life can get so demanding that these simple little reassurances can be easily overlooked.
Maintain your routine – keep the daily schedule
Toddlers love routine. As soon as you are home from the hospital, resume (as much as possible) the same routine that you had prior to the new baby being born.
If your toddler has been in childcare, continue to send him to childcare. Likewise, if he goes to his grandparents on a particular day, keep that ritual going. Maintain daytime sleeps and the nighttime routine of dinner, bath, book and bed. This helps the toddler feel safe and secure. Remember, he needs his boundaries and he needs his bed.
Don’t rush to move your toddler out of the cot! If he is under three, keep him in the cot and move him into a bed when he is a bit older and the household has settled down into a good routine with the new baby. If you move your toddler into a big bed too quickly, he will likely spring in and out of his bed twenty times a night, which is the last thing you need with a new baby! Make things easy, uncomplicated and with minimal change to your toddler’s old routines. It takes about two weeks for a toddler to settle down after the arrival of a new baby, so be patient. The household dynamics have changed forever and new parents need to recognise this remain mindful of how their toddler is coping.
Good luck- I know you will all survive. My seven older brothers and sisters did!
Written by Midwife Cath. Phone or Skype consultation with Midwife Cath click here