It doesn’t feel like 6 years ago when we were preparing our, then 19 month old, daughter for the arrival of a baby. Time has really flown but I remember those days very well and I received some great advice on how to help my toddler to adjust to having a sister. I thought I’d pass it on, as I’m sure there are lots of expectant mummies in similar scenarios.
Talk about the baby lots, so that your older child knows what to expect.
No matter how young your child is, explain as simple as possible that there is a baby growing in your womb. Explain what will happen when you go to the hospital, where your toddler will stay, who will look after them and that you will be bringing home the baby. Take turns roll playing. Help them to pack their suitcase (if they are going to stay with a relative) when you are packing yours. Borrow or buy a book that might help them understand what is going to happen. I stock a really funny pop up one called, ‘What’s in your Tummy Mummy?‘. Help them to also understand what life might be like once the baby comes home. Make sure they understand that the baby is going to stay. I’ve heard so many stories of children, after a few days, telling their parents that they can bring the baby back to the hospital now!! The more information you give your child, the more prepared they will be.
2. Have a gift prepared for the baby to give the toddler and some extra little gifts.
If you have a gift wrapped, then you can produce it the first time your child meets the baby. You can say that it’s a gift from the baby. This will not only help them love the baby but the contents will hopefully distract them for 20 minutes here and there during the busy few weeks of adjusting to live with two. I’d also recommend that you have a stash of pocket money toys wrapped in the cupboard. Over the coming few months, every visitor that comes into your house will bring a gift for the new baby and your toddler may feel overlooked. If you have a stash of toys, you can produce one anytime you think your toddler is about to have a meltdown over having no presents themselves. They can also work magic if you need to bribe your child. After your baby is born, it will be twice as hard to leave the house, so be prepared and buy in what is needed before baby arrives.
3. Leave mummy hands free to hug toddler when s/he first meets baby.
Someone recommended this to me and I thought it was a great tip that I never would have considered, if I hadn’t been told. If you can arrange for daddy or granny to hold the baby the first time that your toddler meets him or her, it will reduce early onset jealousy. It means that your toddler can have your undivided attention, which s/he is used to. They can get normal hugs, can hold your hand etc without feeling there is a baby between you and them. Obviously this isn’t possible all the time, but it’s worth making the effort for the first introductions. I have so many memories of my toddler insisting that baby should be in her bouncy chair and I was happy to oblige this request most of the time when possible as it meant my toddler didn’t feel like I was holding the baby all the time and I got hours of cuddles from baby at night time when my toddler was asleep.
4. Involve them as much as possible, so they feel part of the team welcoming the baby.
Once your baby is home, s/he will demand quite a bit of your attention. If you can include your toddler in as much of it as possible, you are making them feel part of the ‘grown up’ team welcoming the baby. Teach your toddler some lullabies they could sing to the baby. Keep the nappies and wipes on a low shelf/drawer so your toddler can get them at ease for nappy changing time and praise your toddler no end for how helpful they are being. All this will help them see that they still have an important role in your family and that they are needed and loved as much as the baby. When the baby naps, you may feel like you want some down time yourself, but resist the temptation and read your toddler a book or do a puzzle together.
Some Tips for Mummy
- Be prepared for your toddler to regress. I’ve heard of toddlers that were potty trained starting to wet themselves and others needing to be spoon fed again. For me – my toddler refused to walk up or down the stairs about 3 months after our baby arrived. I had to carry them both every time we moved up stairs. It was a short season, so be prepared and be patient. It will pass.
- Don’t be afraid that you’ll have to split your love once baby arrives. It’s amazing how it’s possible to love two little people 100% each.
- Don’t panic about how you are going to cope. I actually found the last trimester of pregnancy with a toddler much harder than the first three months of life with a baby and a toddler. Once the baby arrives, you have your energy back (despite sleepless nights, pregnancy tiredness is much worse), your baby will sleep a lot and you’ll find you are able to do things that you couldn’t do with baby inside (like bend down and play with your toddler)
- Invest in or borrow a good sling. You will want your baby close to you and your baby will want to be close to you too. However, your toddler also will want to hold your hand, make you play with them etc. Having a sling will mean that your baby is close and you still have 2 hands to play/help your toddler.
- Don’t let yourself feel guilty if you give your toddler extra tv time or send him/her to creche for a few extra hours. You need time to bond with your baby/establish feeding etc and your toddler will love extra tv time/time with other little people. The first few months are really hard for most mums so do what you can to make life a little easier and over time you’ll be able to reduce these hours and spend time with both children together without them fussing.
All the best as you transition from one child to two. It’s a hard move but one that I’ve never regretted.