Over the last few months, my wife and I have been preparing for baby number two. As we prepared, we knew that it would be hard for our toddler to adjust to a new baby sibling. Especially since he has had our attention almost 100% of the time since he was born. To help our toddler, I did a bit of research to learn how to help him.
What To Expect From Your Toddler
To understand your toddler’s behavior better, picture your spouse bringing home another woman and announcing that she will be his second spouse. How would you feel? You may have emotions that center around anger, sadness, and shock. To defuse these emotions you may “act out.” Acting out may include shouting at your spouse or his new partner. You may lash out physically or cry and say life isn’t fair. With that perspective it is easier to understand why toddlers behave the way they do with new siblings. Some of the behaviors you may see from your toddler may include tantrums, forbidden activities, physical aggression, and developmental regression.
Tantrums and toddlers often go together, but with the edition of a new baby sibling tantrums may become more frequent and more intense. Often times tantrums may occur when mom or dad are giving attention to the new baby such as when changing a diaper or nursing. Tantrums may not happen with every toddler, but if it does happen it is normal.
Some toddlers may really like the idea of being a big brother or sister. However, they may also resent that a lot of mom and dad’s attention is being given to the new baby. As a result, your toddler may act out by engaging in activities that he knows are forbidden by you. Toddlers do this to get attention from mom and dad. Engaging in forbidden activities may also be a way to test boundaries. A new sibling is a huge change and toddlers may want to see if the boundaries have changed as well.
Don’t be surprised if your toddler shows physical aggression towards his new sibling. Physical aggression may come in the form of pushing, pulling, or hitting. Acting out like this is a way to defuse the emotions your toddler is having. The most important thing with physical aggression is to not discipline him for being physical. But let him know that it is not okay to hurt his new sibling.
Toddlers who have passed major developmental stages such as potty training, being weaned off a bottle, or sleeping through the night may regress back to where they were developmentally before the baby was born. The added stress of sharing mom and dad may cause sleeping through the night to be replaced with anxiety which results in not being able to sleep. These emotions can be strong enough that your toddler’s attention may become wrapped up in this anxiety enough that they revert back to comforting behaviors. Regression may also be your toddler’s strategy to get your attention.
How To Help Your Toddler Accept Their New Sibling
Acknowledge Your Child’s Feelings
When your toddler misbehaves the easy thing to do is to reprimand him. Reprimanding may seem logical, but it may be the worst thing to do in this situation. The most important thing to do is to recognize that your toddler has a lot of emotions about sharing his mom and dad with the new baby. Acknowledge his feelings by talking to him about what’s going on. Explain why you need to give the baby attention.
The one situation where it would be important to reprimand is if your toddler is trying to hurt the new baby. This kind of reprimanding should be done with your toddler’s emotions and struggles in mind. Don’t reprimand too much, but just enough that your toddler knows that hurting his new sibling is not acceptable.
Your toddler’s world has been flipped upside-down. Being consistent with routines (eating, naps, bath times) and disciplining helps a toddler to have some normalcy. As a parent you may not be able to do this exactly like you did before the new baby was born. But if you can be consistent as much as possible it will help with feelings of security.
Let Your Toddler Help You With The New Baby
Since you will be giving a lot of your attention to the new baby include your toddler in what you are doing with the baby. You can do this by allowing your toddler to wash the baby’s legs during bath time. You and your toddler also can spend time together looking at the new baby. As you look you can point out the baby’s eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. If the baby is happy or sad point out to your toddler the emotions the baby is feeling. If you’re changing the new baby’s diaper, enlist your toddler’s help by asking him to bring you a diaper. Toddlers often love to help and it gives them a chance to be with you as you care for the baby.
Offer A Gift To Your Toddler From The New Baby
When parents start to prepare for a new baby often times family and friends will give baby shower gifts for the baby. A toddler may see this and become jealous that so much attention is being placed on the baby. To help your toddler feel included in the gift receiving you can ask your toddler what gift he would like his new sibling to bring him. Then you as the parent can have that gift ready for him to open up at the hospital when he comes to meet his new baby sibling for the first time. Doing this will help your toddler to not feel like he’s not getting lost in the excitement of a baby being born.
Spend One-on-One Time With Your Toddler
Perhaps one of the best things you can do is to consistently make an effort to spend one-on-one time with your toddler. Your toddler may recognize that you’re not spending as much time with him, but spending consistent one-on-one time will show your toddler that the one thing that hasn’t changed is your love for him. If you consistently do one-on-one time this will become part of your toddler’s routine and this over time will help him to adjust to having to share mom and dad with a new baby sibling.
What have you done to help your toddler adjust to a new sibling?