How to Prepare Your Toddler for The New Baby
Top tips for transitioning your firstborn when growing your family.
Deciding to welcome a new baby into your family is a wildly exciting time, but it can also be a daunting decision. One of the main concerns for parents growing their family is how will their eldest children react to the new bundle of joy?
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This concern is not totally unfounded: According to a study published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family, most firstborn children will experience the transition to siblinghood as toddlers, which is between the ages of 2 and 3. This is a significant period for a young child’s social and emotional development. The study shows that after the birth of a sibling, there can be an immediate negative impact on the firstborn child’s verbal development, as well as negative effects on achievement and on socio-emotional adjustment for the next two and a half years.
But, thankfully, there is good news: These changes are only temporary, according to the researchers, and there are ways to mitigate the disruption. The team hypothesised that the effects of sibling birth can be mediated by “positive changes” to the family environment, including “compensatory interactions” with family members.
Here are a few examples of “positive changes” that will help ease a second child into the life of a previously only child:
1. Make other changes as far in advance as possible
Getting any other major transitions out of the way is an important way parents and caregivers can prepare a child for a new sibling.
If it still needs to happen, move them from your bedroom into their own space. Introduce your child carers and potty train, if you can.
2. Talk about it as a family
Your little one may not know many words yet but that doesn’t mean you should underestimate what he or she understands. Books can be a helpful method of introducing new ideas to your child.
3. Lean on the other parent
This is a great opportunity for the parent who isn’t pregnant to bond with their firstborn child. Carve out special time before the baby comes to enable their bond to grow (and to give pregnant mum some downtime!). Continue this special time even after the baby has arrived.
4. Let your older child be in charge
Little ones want to feel involved and in charge, so, let them feel this way!
After the baby’s arrival, arrange for someone to bring your older child to the hospital. Reunite with your firstborn without the new baby on your lap. If possible, ask a nurse, relative or friend to hold the baby when your older child arrives, so you can have a quiet moment together before introducing them to the new baby.
To make your older child feel involved and bond with the baby, present your firstborn with a gift “from” the new baby.
5. Prioritise your firstborn’s needs
The first few months after the baby’s arrival, experts recommend promoting a positive sibling relationship by prioritising your firstborn’s needs. To make up for the loss of mum’s attention, have an “activity bag” or toy chest filled with special toys your older child only gets to play with when you need to attend to the new baby.
And remember, sometimes your newborn will have to wait just a few minutes.
6. Be prepared to have two babies again
No matter what you do, expect some regressions. Your potty-trained toddler may start having accidents, for example, or a formerly independent sleeper may need more help settling at night. It is okay to allow this to happen.
One way to help is to offer your firstborn “baby time” whenever they need it. This is a chance for your eldest to cuddle on your lap and enjoy the focus of all your attention.
The bottom line
Bringing a new baby into your family is a major change for everyone, so don’t be too hard on yourself. No matter what you do, it is likely that your child will act out a little bit for totally understandable reasons. It can be frustrating, but don’t beat yourself up for not doing the “right” thing.
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