“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 a huge truck wrapped up next to the new baby for him with his name on a card: “To Jack from your new baby sister Imogen”.
They were knocked back into their seats when he asked them who is going to be this baby’s parents.
In that moment, they experienced their first instance of the difficulties that can come from introducing a new child into the family.
You see, 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’ from the baby to the toddler and really the toddlers are not very interested in the present. I have seen many new trucks sitting in the corner of the room with the toddler playing with the wrapping paper. While the parents feel more excited about giving their toddler a present, often toddlers are not even interested in their new sibling or the present.
Imagine if another adult moved into your home. There would be lots of questions, emotions and discussions. A toddler does not have the developmental capacity to ask questions and the only way he can demonstrate his emotions is by screaming, hitting, crying and sometimes regressing in such things as toilet training.
All this is normal behavior. Here are a few basic steps to follow to help the little one – and yourself – better cope with the situation.
Toddlers do not have the developmental capacity to be jealous – that is a learned behavior – they do not understand how their world has changed and how to express their feelings. To help a sibling adjust to a newborn, I would suggest a few basic ideas
Lots of cuddles
Toddlers need attention and they need a lot of it and they need it now. This will make him feel more secure and he will get sick of all the attention and will eventually go and do his own thing.
Ask him constantly to come to you for a cuddle rather than saying “no” to everything he does. Have a few tricks up your sleeve while you are sitting and feeding the new baby; like a small book you can read to him or a game (You will understand the meaning of multiskilled!).
While feeding the new baby, have the toddler sit up next to you. Remember don’t push the friendship with the new baby, it will happen. The 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 to pat the baby gently. Tell him to kiss the baby on the top of the baby’s head. Tell him what to do because he does not know. As parents we are teachers. We need to teach the children what to do and often we have unreal 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 can find the new situation a bit overwhelming too and by talking to him he will learn that you are ok, and when you are ok, he will be ok! Talk to him and provide reassurance. Tell him you love him…frequently.
Maintain your routine – keep the daily schedule
Toddlers love routine and as soon as you are home, keep the same routine that you had prior to the new baby being born.
If he has been in childcare continue to send him, if he goes to his grandparents on a particular day – keep it going. Maintain the routine on time and ongoing. Do the same routine day in day out. 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. If moved into a bed too early you often have a toddler hopping in and out of his bed…you don’t need this with a new baby! Make things easy, uncomplicated and minimal change for your toddler. It takes about two weeks for the toddler to settle down so be patient. The household dynamics have changed forever and new parents need to recognise this and be mindful of how the 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
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