How to get your toddler prepared for baby number 2

Date Published: 10/11/2021

Many parents become anxious about how their toddler will adjust when a new baby is coming into the family. As well as concern, guilt is a common emotion for parents who can feel they’re giving a message of ‘you’re not enough’ to their toddler. And although as adults we understand this is not true or even rational, these feelings can be hard to ignore.

It’s important to remember that worry is often a sign of love and deep connection towards our children. Feeling empathy and wondering how our children could feel are markers that they’re probably going to be fine. Recognizing the potential for a toddler to feel unsure and then offering them reassurance helps when becoming an older sibling.

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As parents, it’s normal to want to protect our children from feeling confused and even sad. In the big scheme of experiences, having a baby brother or sister is generally a good thing. Sometimes, it can take toddlers a little while to learn this.

What we know to be true

Early periods of adjustment are normal for families when a new baby is born. There is no one perfect timeframe where everyone settles into a new routine. Toddlers follow their parent’s lead when it comes to adapting to changes. It helps when the adults in their life are calm and patient.

In the long term, most sibling relationships settle into a happy flow. This can take time, patience and lots of reassurance from parents to manage effectively. Sibling relationships provide valuable life lessons – parents are not the only influencers on development.

10 ways to help your toddler adjust to having a new sibling

  • Talk with your toddler about the new baby coming. Show them photos of themselves as a baby and try to prepare them as much as possible.
  • Involve your toddler in setting up the nursery. If your older child is still in a cot, transition them to a bed well before the baby is brought home. This will help to avoid feelings of jealousy due to giving up their cot for the baby.
  • Give your toddler their own ‘baby’ to care for. A lifelike doll or teddy will help them to care for their own baby when you’re focusing on the real one.
  • Make time to give your toddler lots of cuddles and reassurance when the baby arrives. Spend time with them every day doing something they enjoy and where possible, with just the two of you.
  • Don’t ‘push’ the new baby onto your toddler. Follow their lead in coming to the baby and being inquisitive.
  • Expect some behavioural changes and regression when the new baby arrives. Everyone in the family needs to find their new place when there’s a new person in the mix. Expect some sibling rivalry with the older children in the family – often feelings are displayed through behaviour.
  • Acknowledge and name your toddler’s feelings, e.g., “you’re feeling sad aren’t you”. Sometimes it will be enough just to cuddle and hold them. Remember that they’re still small as well.
  • Be consistent and aim for a simple life, especially in the early days of caring for a new baby. Avoid doing too much. Settling into a new pattern of family life takes energy.
  • Care well for yourself and remember that if you’re not okay, no one else in the family will be either.
  • Try not to overreact about your toddler’s responses. If they learn they’ll get lots of attention through negative behaviour, they’re likely to repeat this. Ignore what doesn’t matter and praise the behaviour you want to see more of.

Written by Jane Barry, Midwife and Child Health Nurse, October 2021.