Thou hath no fury like a child jealous of a baby.
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Am I right? Bringing home a new addition can be stressful and frightening all on its own. Add a toddler or preschooler to the mix and you may feel like you may no longer rule the roost. It’s not as if we as new parents we didn’t already have enough to worry about. So how do you help your toddler through a new baby? You clone yourself.
Just kidding. If only it were that simple.
How to prepare your child before new baby arrives
Taking the time before a new baby arrives to help your child prepare and set their expectations is an important step. No one likes to be thrown off-guard, kids included.
Answer your child’s questions about babies.
Kids come up with all sorts of questions about babies. The answers you give, and how often you give them can make a huge difference. I am going to guesstimate and say answering each question about 45 times a day will be mildly sufficient. “Is the new baby here yet?”
What is a baby, what are they like, and what do they do? It may seem obvious to us but kids are amazed to find out that a baby is a tiny adult. Talk to them about all the people in their lives who were once babies and how they grow. To us, babies are fascinating. The way they develop, their strength, as well as the helpful instincts and reflexes they were born with.
You know what? Kids won’t be overly impressed by that. Your toddler likely won’t be entertained by the fact that newborns vision is in black and white – they may not even grasp what seeing without color would be like. They will, however, want their sibling’s attention and may get frustrated that they aren’t getting it. New babies are boring. There are so many rules, and newsflash – toddlers hate rules.
Don’t touch there.
Babies can’t have marshmallows.
Don’t poke the baby’s eyes.
The baby cannot ride the dog.
Don’t shake the baby.
Don’t give the baby play-doh.
The list can go on. Be realistic with their expectations. It is exciting but there is a chance that they will be disappointed with the number of things a baby can do. Remind them often that it will take time before they are able to run and play but they can help their new sibling(s) learn lots of cool things.
All 426829 questions.
How do they get here? Figure out ahead of time your answers to how babies get here, where they come from, and how they are made. This will look different for all families. I did not expect to have complications ending an extended hospital stay with strict bedrest. There were many things hooked up to mommy and I was gone for a few days. I really wish I had spoken to my kids ahead of time about mom not being home. Being home was hard for me emotionally as I healed. Learning to limit myself when our preschooler wanted me to play all day, and helping her understand why I couldn’t. After all, babies just come from under your shirt.
Can I play with the new baby? Since newborns and young infants aren’t capable of a whole lot when it comes to playing, this can often be an area of disappointment for their sibling. Picking out a few things for baby with your toddler that they can use together can help them create special moments and bond. Soft cloth baby books, high contrast pictures, or a lovey of their choice are some minimally hazardous items that I felt comfortable having my preschooler have around.
Can I help? Kids are just so dang helpful. This is why their rooms are spotless, isn’t it? Be prepared for big brother or big sister to be just that. BIG. They are “big” now so they can help. With everything! Be consistent with a few tasks that you can go over ahead of time that they are always welcome to help with. I emphasized how lucky I am to have such a great helper and to make sure they are helping an adult with permission.
Do a new baby trial run.
Break out the dolls. We played house and baby lots before the tiny human made his appearance. We changed diapers, gave baths, went for walks, and since I am a CPST, we obviously practiced keeping baby safe in the car.
My youngest daughter was sad that her days of being worn in a carrier were likely over. This wasn’t entirely due to a new baby…she is four at the end of the year and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I could sense the jealousy already and knew it was going to be an issue. We invested in a matching carrier for her to carry her baby in and be like mommy. We chose the Ergo Baby Doll Carrier since that is the SSC I have and we couldn’t be happier with it!
Read books about bringing home a new baby.
There are many great books about becoming a big brother or big sister, bringing a new baby home, and expanding your family. Plan a fun trip to the library and pick some out together.
How to help your child adjust once new baby arrives
All children will react differently. Some may react negatively immediately, others won’t be phased, and some don’t show any issues until later. Whichever it may be, you got this! Remember that you are enough, you are doing great, and to ask for help. You are a mom – not a Super Hero. Even though they are pretty damn comparable. Don’t do it all yourself.
Focus on the older kids.
This is one that can be hard, but it is really effective. Talk about your kids. Talk about them in front of them and behind their backs. Everyone always wants to know about the new addition to the family. Talking about them all the time can be quite a piss off for other siblings and make them feel as though they don’t matter. That is far from the truth.
It can be hard to notice and might end up being a conscious effort every day. Let friends and family members know that it is important to engage with all the kids during every visit – sometimes focusing on everyone but the new baby. This a great time for one on one time with each child!
Some great advice that was given to me is that babies can wait. Not always, but the majority of the time a couple minutes can be spared. I was given these great examples of things to say when focusing on an older sibling to help them feel that the new baby isn’t always first:
“Hang on [baby] I am just reading a book for [older sibling]”
“Mom will be right there, your [sibling] needs me at the moment’
I also like to talk about my kids behind their back while they are in earshot or “fight over them”. Obviously all good things. When they are nearby I talk loud enough for them to hear. I praise the crap out of them or playfully argue that it is my turn to play with them. I usually spot some blushing.
Remember those key tasks that you prepared your kids to be able to help with. Follow through. It is easy to want to say “no” when they ask to help. I am so guilty of this. Usually, it’s because I am in a hurry or because I don’t want them to bug the baby but 99% of the time the baby actually loves it.
Little kids have big feelings. Acknowledge their feelings and help them navigate through them. Let them know you understand and that you are there for them. Here are some extra phrases to help:
“This is really hard for you”
“I can see that this is making you sad, do you want to talk about it or hug?”
“Thank you very much for being you”
“Can you tell me what you are feeling so that I can help you?”
“I love you, even when you feel angry”
“I am sorry. Can we fix this together?”
Be honest, be realistic, be patient.