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Tovah Klein, Ph.D.
Tovah P Klein Ph.D.
Family Dynamics

Welcoming a New Baby Into the Family

Ease a toddler into the big sibling role.

Welcoming a new baby when you have a toddler or older child is a joyous occasion. It can also be fraught with trepidation and worry. Your hands will be more full. You may wonder and worry about how your older one will adjust. It is a big adjustment.

However, fear is not needed! With tried-and-true tips, plus a little prep, the transition will be more manageable and you will better understand what your still little, big sibling is feeling.

Can Stock Photo
Source: Can Stock Photo

1. Don’t spill the beans too early.

It is exciting to discover that you are expecting again and even more exciting to share the news. Great, share it. But not with your toddler, at least not this early. Their limited sense of time means that telling them of this exciting event months early creates worry and anxiety. Toddlers think once they hear of something happening, that it is happening now. And waiting is simply too hard to do. I recommend waiting as long as you can, and then tell your little one with concrete details, “After spring comes and there are new flowers, then the baby will be here.” Waiting until the last month to tell your child will keep the whole family happier.

2. "You are my first baby forever."

It may sound exciting to you that your toddler will be a big brother or sister, but your child has no idea what that means. Toddlers are just figuring out what being "me" is. And now a new role—big brother or sister. Instead of focusing on that, remind your child that s/he will always be your baby, even with a new baby here. They can’t hear it enough! Also remind yourself just how little your older one is. Three-four-five-six. Once a new baby arrives, we tend to see our firstborn as even bigger or older than they really are. They are still fairly new to life in many ways. And your older one needs to know you will still be there for them, in all their baby needs.

3. Expect regression.

Toddlers regress. Bigger children regress. This can be before the baby comes or after (or both!). It is their way of communicating that they are not sure of what is going on; they are filled with excitement, anticipation and anxiety. More clinging, toilet-ing setbacks, increased whining or tantrums and sleep disruptions are common. Do your best to remember how little your older one is and avoid control battles as best you can. Instead, bring them closer—they need you more. Extra hugs, cuddles, "babying" them can go a long way in helping them move through this major change in your family.

4. Make it ALL about the older one.

Let your child believe that this new brother or sister is here for them: “Hey! Your baby is looking for you, wondering where you are.” “Look, baby! Your sister is back, she came home from school.” Presents delivered to the door? Let your bigger one open them and play with toys, read books or other goodies in the box. You’ll be grateful for friends who remember to send a big-sibling gift, too.

5. Jealousy is normal.

We expand our families with the idea of having siblings who love each other and are friends for life. That will happen. Later. For now, having a new baby can bring out love in your toddler but also jealousy and a mix of feelings. Try to recognize the anger and confusion your child is feeling, “It is so frustrating when mommy has to feed the baby again!”—it will help them handle those complex emotions. Recognize her need to be with you, “I will change baby’s diaper so fast so I can come back and read you a book.” It helps her feel understood.

6. Mommy’s sidekick.

Young children like to help. Bring your toddler onto the "management" side with you by giving her simple tasks. Let her bring you a diaper for the baby, or hold the baby’s toy while you get him into the car seat. These empowering moments give your firstborn a way to be part of the action and "mama’s little helper."

7. Grab even the smallest moments of alone time.

It can be hard to manage two. Small pockets of time, that are solely for you and the older one, can go a long way. A few minutes reading a book can help your child feel connected to you. Explicitly label that time, “It is only mommy and (child’s name) reading now. No baby here.” Your child will know he has something special with you.

8. Ask for help from everyone who will give it.

A second baby is an adjustment, a joy and a big change. You may be someone who likes to do it all yourself, but now is not the time for that. Meals, free babysitting, someone to take your child to the park or school, groceries dropped off. Accept help. You can return the favor in the future.

9. Let go of perfection.

Perfection. All too often we strive for it. Mothers can be hard on themselves. Now is not the time. As you let go of perfection, you will relax more and find greater joy in being with your two bundles of joy. Dishes can remain dirty; bedtime may have to vary a bit. But at the end of the day, the exhaustion you feel as a mother of two is well earned exhaustion!

A version of this is published at Motherly.

About the Author
Tovah Klein, Ph.D.

Tovah Klein, Ph.D., is the director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and an Associate Professor of Psychology.

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