The announcement of having another child might be very exciting for you and your partner, but how will your toddler react to the news?
Toddlers (kids between the ages of 2 – 5) are the most interesting yet complex little human beings. Some may amaze you at their reaction of having a sibling while others’ reactions’ might just break your heart. Fact is, they know that they are the center of your world, they enjoy being the center of your world and YOU are the center of their world… the news of having a sibling might at first not really seem to upset or excite them. This is mostly because toddlers are concrete in their thinking and cannot think abstractly. However, once you are home with the new born (an actual living creature) it will become more real to them. That is why preparing your toddler before the birth of the newcomer is so important.
Here are some tips in helping you to prepare them:
Give your toddler ownership over the new baby
By “ownership” I mean help them to understand that this is their sister/brother by using the correct language when talking to them about the sibling to come. This will help to decrease the opportunity for being jealous and instead give them a sense of ownership and deep care and love for the newcomer. For example, when talking about the newcomer use the words “this is YOUR brother/sister. When the sibling is born continue to use these words by saying YOUR sister/brother is so lucky to have you as sibling. Instead of using the words “our” or “mommy and daddy’s” new baby use the words “yours”.
Explain the family dynamics to the toddler in a childlike manner
You’re child needs to know that although the new baby will take a lot of attention and they may feel left out that both parents will still love him/her just as much as before. You can use the following words: “We love you so much, we have loved you even before you were born. Our hearts are very big and we have more than enough space to love you and your new brother/sister just as much as we love you. You will always be our first born and therefore you have a very special place in our hearts. Just as you are special to us, your new brother/sister will be just as special to us.”
Have a routine in place that can continue after the birth of the new baby
Routines are very important for kids. It gives them predictability and makes them feel safe. Have a special routine in place months before the birth of the new baby that can continue once the newcomer is home. It can be something simple like daddy reading a book before bed and mommy coming in to say prays and give a kiss goodnight. Or having a cup of tea/milo with the toddler in the mornings when he/she just woke up. Choose something that will not take a lot of your time as having a new born can take up a lot of your time!
Practice makes perfect
Buy your child a baby doll a few months prior to the birth. Practice the practical things like how to behave around a baby or how to carry a baby etc. beforehand. Here you can teach the toddler the do’s and don’ts of how to behave around a new born. For example, teach them that you cannot pick a baby up when mommy is not around or how to carry a baby if they are old enough. You can also explain to them that babies sleep and cry a lot at first and that they will not be able to play with them for a while. Once the baby is born they can also copy you and feed their baby doll or change the baby doll’s diaper when you are busy with the new born.
Make use of positive discipline
Before the new comer is born, your toddler will most likely be a noisy, busy child running and screaming around the house. However, now that the new born is home these rules will most likely change. Suddenly, your toddler is not allowed to scream or laugh at the top of his voice or is no longer allowed to run like an elephant down the passage because the little one is sleeping. Instead of using the words “don’t run, scream, and laugh etc. at high volume” use positive discipline. Say something like, your sister is sleeping please try to be softer so that she can have a good sleep. Praise the positive behavior and reward your child for it. Soon they will learn that behaving around the little one will earn them more rewards than punishments.
Build a relationship between the siblings before the birth
Involve your child in preparing for the new sibling. Remember to use the “ownership” language while doing this. For example have them talk to the sibling and let them touch your tummy when the baby kicks.
Regression is real
Regression happens when the first born starts to act in a baby like manner again. This can include starting to wet the bed when potty trained or sucking thumb etc. Just go with it and let them be a “baby” for a while. Usually this behavior does not last long and can be seen as a normal reaction to the new born.
Mommy’s little helper vs mommy’s little slave
This can be a tricky aspect. Although it is good to involve the older child in helping with the new born, some parents place to much responsibility on the older child. This can lead to resentment of the new born if not managed correctly. Have something in place like telling the first born beforehand that if they do not feel like helping mommy with the new born and would rather like to play with their toys they are allowed to say no.