With a new baby on the way, I know you’re making so many preparations for the big arrival. The excitement – and maybe even some nerves – are in the air and, if you have a sweet toddler at home, they feel the dynamic shifting, too.
Change is hard for everyone, and harder when you’re little and don’t have the vocabulary or emotional maturity to face it. And mamas, that’s where you come in, but you don’t have to go it alone. As a mama myself (I’ve got three growing kiddos) and a newborn and family photographer here in Fort Worth, I’ve got lots of tricks up my sleeve. And I’m ready to share them.
Let’s talk BEFORE.
As your due date is approaching and you’re prepping the nursery and hospital bag, start making small shifts to help your toddler adjust to the big changes that are coming.
Here are a few tried and true practices to help with the adjustment:
1.REPEAT, REPEAT, REPEAT
Kids thrive on repetition and routine, and if one thing will shake up a routine, it’s the arrival of a new family member – especially one that takes so much of mom and dad’s attention. So, simply talk to your toddler about what it will be like when the baby arrives – and be sure to talk about it a lot. In speaking of the changes to come, you remove the fear factor and set everyone up for success.
2. HELPING HANDS
When you’re speaking to your toddler, make sure you specifically talk to them about their exciting new role as a big brother/sister and how much you will need their help. Instead of feeling left out, this helps make your toddler a key part of what’s coming. And with your toddler’s love of (and NEED for) repetition in mind, talk about this often.
3. STORY TIME!
Read your little one books about becoming an older sibling. I love this, this and this one, too. Not only will your toddler thrive on the one-on-one time with mama, but seeing their reality mirrored in these sweet stories will help prepare them for the changes ahead.
4. (REALITY) CHECK YOURSELF
Bringing home your new baby will not be a disaster – and it will not be perfect. There will be moments of tears (from everyone in the family), and moments of sheer bliss as you see your family grow and those bonds take hold. I encourage you to be excited, FOR SURE, but also to set your expectations appropriately. Having a new baby in the house is an adjustment for everybody!
5. ROLE PLAY
Engage your toddler in a bit of make-believe. Get yourself a small box of preemie diapers, pull out the baby dolls, and teach your kiddo how to change a diaper. And don’t forget to let them help when the REAL baby arrives!
6. SAVE YOUR GREAT EXPECTATIONS FOR A LATER DATE
No, I’m not talking about the classics here – I’m talking about the expectations of getting your toddler to tackle big transitions before baby’s arrival. You’ve probably heard it before or even felt the pressure. Maybe it’s to transition your kiddo from a crib to a “big kid” bed before the new baby is born, to give up the pacifier or learn to use the potty. However, I encourage you to manage expectations of yourself and your kiddo. There are lots of big changes on the horizon, and it’s best to tackle a precious few at a time.
Now, let’s talk AFTER.
Once your new baby is here, there is still plenty you can do to help your toddler – who undoubtedly looks like SUCH a big kid now! – to adjust.
Here are my favorite helpful hints:
7. THE GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING
Purchase a small-but-sweet gift that your new baby “brings” for its new older sibling just after birth. It’s a great way to demonstrate what a special day and time this is, for the new big brother or sister, too.
8. EMBRACE CURIOSITY
When a brand-new baby comes home, your toddler is going to be very curious about this new little human in the home. To this I say, let them investigate! Let them poke and prod within reason (and with clean hands of course!). If they’re confused about the nursing process, let them watch and explain what is happening, in toddler terms. When you can, remember to tell them that they were this age once, and you took care of them in all the same ways!
9. #1 HELPER
Designate your toddler as your super-duper, very special, #1 Helper. Give them jobs that are essential to you and the new baby, but that your toddler can easily and safely handle. Perhaps it’s bringing you a bottle of water while you’re nursing, or wipes at diaper time. Maybe they can help you find a paci or a lovey to help soothe the baby at changing time, or during witching hour. Make sure you acknowledge the help with phrases like “You’re Mommy’s BEST helper” or “What a great big sister/brother you are!” Show them – and TELL them – how helpful they are to you and baby.
10. FEEL THOSE FEELINGS
We all know that sometimes when we’re sad, mad or confused, we’re not looking for a fix – but rather, for someone to simply acknowledge how we feel and provide a safe landing after the storm of big emotions subsides. Moms, your toddlers are no different. Emotions may run high at times with all the changes taking place at home, and this is totally normal. There is nothing better you can do than acknowledge those hard feelings, love them through it and be that safe landing for your kiddo.
11. DELAYED REACTIONS
If you can, gently prepare yourself for the possibility of a delayed reaction to the new baby’s arrival. Sometimes things on the home front are blissful for many months and it can seem like you’re in the clear. When my third baby was born, the big sibling frustrations didn’t start until he was one. I don’t share this to be pessimistic but rather, so you know what to look out for – and to keep being consistent with your toddler. They need that consistency more than ever.
Before baby arrived, almost ALL of your time with your toddler was one-on-one, and this is one of the biggest changes that comes with having a newborn in the mix. So be sure to carve out time to spend with your toddler, just the two of you. Enlist the help of your partner or a babysitter, or a trusted neighbor, and do something with that now-big kid of yours. You don’t have to carve out hours and hours (and if you’re nursing, it’s unlikely baby’s feeding schedule allows for that!), but don’t multitask or squeeze in errands – make it quality, and make it count. A little one on one time can go a long way.
13. PUT TODDLER FIRST (SOMETIMES)
On occasion, when your newborn is crying but safely contained, make a point to tend to your toddler before you go to your baby. When you do so, describe it in words that they can understand. For example, “I see you need a snack. Let me help you with that and then I’ll feed the baby.” Doing this when you can – and when it’s safe – shows your toddler that being firstborn doesn’t always mean second fiddle.
Mamas, I know you have a lot on your plate and you’re doing SO much. Here’s to hoping that these tips can help prepare your toddler (and yourself) for all of the changes ahead.
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