So you have a new baby on the way and a toddler at home?
The thought of how your toddler is going to accept a sibling into the family with as little challenge as possible is probably top of mind.
Up until now, they’ve been the star of the show! They’ve been the solo act in the family circus. How will they possibly accept sharing the stage and the love of the audience?
We have a few tips to ease the transition from your toddler being a solo artist to a band member, including loads of things you can do together!
As with any transition, two of the key elements to keep in mind are time and patience. Here’s some helpful advice to get you started.
Before the baby comes home
The months leading up to the birth of your baby are a great time to prepare your older child for the arrival of their little brother or sister.
- There are some great books you can pick up at the library or book store about being a new brother or sister. Take some time to read with your child and answer any questions they might have. The more you read the books together, the more questions your child might have. Answer them as honestly, and as age-appropriately, as you can.
- Talk to your child about the fact that the new baby will be so lucky to have such a great big brother or sister.
- Show your child pictures of themselves when they were babies and talk about how perfect they were then and now.
- Involve your child in helping to set up the baby’s room. Perhaps they could suggest a paint colour (you might want to give them a limited option of colours to be on the safe side!). Maybe your child could pick a picture of themselves to put on a bookshelf that they think the new baby might want to look at.
- Let your child pick out a few things for the baby, such as a toy, a book, or an outfit. When the baby arrives, your child will be excited to let the baby know that they picked something out all on their own.
When the baby comes home: The first days
- You may want to smooth the waters right off the bat by presenting your firstborn with a present from their new little brother or sister.
- Introduce your baby to your toddler and show them how to gently touch their new sibling. If your toddler wants to hold the baby, put them next to you and lay your newborn across your laps. Praise, praise, and praise again! Let your toddler know how well they’re doing and how much the baby is loving their care.
If you have friends and family who live close by, odds are good that you’ll have people who want to visit. Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to visitors:
- Accept any help that they offer! (Grandma, you’d like to bring us dinner tomorrow? Yes please! Neighbour, you’d be happy to mow the lawn and take the dog for a walk? The leash is at the door!) And if no one offers? There’s no shame in asking!
- If they bring gifts for the baby, let your older child have the job of unwrapping presents or save them to unwrap when the kids are in bed.
- Ensure that your firstborn is getting their share of attention when the baby might seem like the reason for everyone celebrating. These first days might be ones when Dad or a favourite relative or friend takes your child on a special trip to the park, on a bus, or for an ice-cream.
- There’s a possibility that toddlers will act out, cry more than usual, or that all potty-training success will go out the window. But by ensuring that they continue to feel your love and by attempting to keep them as close as possible to their routine, they will most likely come around quite quickly.
Just keep remembering the key elements in transitions—time and patience.
Beyond the first days
When the visitors have left the building, it’s helpful to have plans in place. How can your older child be included into the daily baby routine? What will your child do while you’re feeding the baby?
Think ahead to plan time for one-on-one activities with your toddler. What can you do together?
Let your toddler be the helper
By providing your older child with options of what they can do to help and thanking them repeatedly for doing such a great job, they’ll feel a real sense of pride.
Ask for your child’s advice about what they think their baby should wear. (Just make sure to provide them with a limited number of choices or you might end up in an argument about why the baby can’t wear a snowsuit in the middle of July.)
Perhaps they could pick out a book to show the baby. Or ask your toddler to bring you a diaper, to help dry off the baby after their bath, or to sing to the baby to keep them happy.
Keep everyone happy during feeding time
Before you start feeding your baby, make sure your older child has a snack or drink and have them go to the potty. Feeding time can actually be a bonding activity for both of your children. As you feed your baby, you could read a book with your older child, give them their own baby doll to feed at the same time, snuggle, and talk.
If your child would rather play, have options such as crayons and coloring books, cars, blocks, stuffies, or play dough close to where you set up to feed.
Play games together while you’re feeding, like Simon Says or I Spy. Make up a scavenger hunt—can you find a blue toy, something round, etc.? Or, if you have a little bit of time to prepare in advance, you can try one of these 6 fun household activities for active toddlers.
Play “restaurant” and have your kids use their imagination to get you “a snack.” Can they put together a pretend sandwich or a bowl of spaghetti?
If it’s not raining or snowing and you’re comfortable feeding your baby outside, set yourself up in a spot where you can feed and your child can play. Have toys and activities set up in your yard such as sandboxes, trucks and cars, small slides, sidewalk chalk, or give your child paintbrushes and water and let them “paint” the fences or ground.
When my second child was about a month old, I called his pediatrician to book a follow up appointment. As I was speaking with his doctor, I mentioned that I had managed to get him and his two-year-old sister to nap at the same time that day. She made me feel like I had won the lottery!
But she also warned me that they might never nap at the same time again. (Sigh…) But when your baby is napping and your toddler is awake, this is an excellent opportunity to spend quality time together.
Read a book, kick a ball back and forth, have your child tell you about their favourite things, set up some blocks and have an impromptu bowling game, have them do some stretching or yoga with you, enjoy some action songs together such as “The Hokey Pokey” or “The Wheels on the Bus,” or sit and colour.
Having one-on-one time with your child is a great reminder to them that they are special and very loved.
When both of your kids are awake, take advantage of good weather and head outside. Use a double stroller if you’re heading for a long excursion, or have your older child walk (or skip or gallop) while your baby is in a stroller or baby carrier.
Let your child know that they’re helping the baby learn and have them point things out to their sibling on a walk.
While you’re at home together, put your baby in a carrier, put on some favourite songs, and have a family dance party. Here’s a great playlist in case you need some inspiration!
Let your older child take pictures of the baby with your phone (silly filters add immensely to the fun).
Your child can rock the baby gently in their swing and sing them songs. They can put on shows with their stuffed animals and entertain them (perhaps you could take a few minutes to lay on the couch to enjoy the show too!).
Or, for more inspiration, check out this great list of 49 fun physical activities to do with kids aged 2 to 4.
Caring for two children is a challenge. Be sure to take whatever time you can to look after yourself. If you only get enough time for a few pages of a book one day, another day you may have someone to watch the kids (hello Grandma!) and take a solo walk or meet up with a friend for a visit.
And if the dishes or the laundry have to sit for an extra day or two, it’s perfectly fine! There are no awards (of which I’m aware) for best-maintained home.