From the moment you find out you’re pregnant and you also have a toddler at home, you may begin to wonder how your toddler will feel about having a new sibling in the family, and you’ll be trying to figure out exactly how to help a toddler adjust to a new baby.
It is completely normal to ask yourself questions, such as:
- Will my toddler like being an older sibling?
- How will she handle the adjustment?
- Will he feel displaced?
- What can I do to help my toddler handle the transition?
While every toddler seems to react differently to becoming an older sibling, here are some tried and tested tips to help make the transition go more smoothly for everyone!
How to help your toddler adjust before baby arrives
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1. Involve your toddler in the baby’s gender reveal
Whether you have a large, small, or family-only gathering, be sure to include your toddler in the celebration. She could help pop the balloons, pull the streamers, or cut the cake to see whether she’ll be having a new baby brother or sister. Be creative and keep in mind what your toddler is capable of doing!
It’s also a good idea to explain in advance to your toddler that pink typically means a baby sister and blue means a baby brother is on the way. Also let your toddler know that you’ll be excited and happy about either gender!
2. Allow your toddler to pick out something special for his or her new sibling
A few months or weeks in advance of your baby’s arrival, make a special trip to the store so your toddler can choose something new for the baby. This doesn’t have to be anything extravagant – an inexpensive outfit, nursery decoration, or baby toy will be perfect!
While you may want to give a few suggestions, let the final decision be up to your toddler so he can really take ownership of his choice in the future.
Once your baby is born and is wearing that specific outfit or toy, you can mention to your toddler how much your baby seems to like the choice he made.
3. Schedule a special hospital or birthing center visit for your toddler
If you’ll be having your baby in a hospital or birthing center, find out if you can schedule a short visit for your toddler within the last month or two of your pregnancy.
Some hospitals have a Big Brother/Big Sister program already in place where expectant older siblings can have a tour of the postpartum area of the hospital, speak with a nurse, and learn a little bit about newborn babies. (Many hospitals have suspended these programs due to the pandemic, but hopefully they’ll be able to resume in the future!)
Being somewhat familiar with the hospital itself can be very helpful for your toddler when she comes to visit you and her new baby sibling in the hospital!
4. Create a simple visual representation of events for your toddler in the few weeks leading up to baby’s birth
To help your toddler feel extra prepared for the baby’s arrival, you may consider drawing a simple calendar or flowchart for him.
While it’s often impossible to predict when your baby will arrive (unless you have a scheduled C-section planned) you could draw up a simple flowchart.
For example, if you have parents or in-laws coming before the birth, you could draw an airplane or car with grandparents on board, followed by an arrow pointing to a car, you, your partner, and a hospital, followed by another arrow pointing to a drawing of the baby at the hospital. Finally, a final arrow can then point to a picture of your whole family reunited at home together.
You don’t have to be a great artist at all to make this effective! But if you have a toddler who likes to feel in control, having a visual representation of the events that are coming can really be helpful.
While things don’t always go according to plan with labor and delivery, emphasize to your toddler that the thing you’re most excited about is the picture of having the whole family at home together at the end!
5. Choose a special treat for your toddler to enjoy when she comes to the hospital
To make the first hospital visit extra exciting for your toddler, allow her to choose an extra special treat to put in your hospital bag.
When it’s time for you to go to the hospital, remind your toddler that you’ll be waiting to see her there, and that you’ll have her special treat ready for her when she comes! This can help reassure her and help her look forward to coming to visit you and the new baby in the hospital.
How to help your toddler adjust after baby arrives
6. Let go of expectations for the first hospital visit
The first time your toddler comes to visit you and the new baby in the hospital, give your toddler the space to choose how and when he greets the baby.
He may be very interested and excited to see his new sibling. But it’s perfectly okay if that’s not the case at all!
Toddlers can feel a whole range of emotions the first time they meet a new sibling. According to the What to Expect website, toddlers may feel anxious, nervous, or jealous of a new sibling.
Be sure not to force your toddler to interact with the baby in any way – doing so can increase feelings of resentment your toddler may be feeling.
If you can, it’s very helpful to have your partner, another family member or a nurse holding the baby when your toddler arrives to visit. That way, you can open your arms to your toddler and reassure him that he is still an important priority in your life too!
7. Have a birthday party for baby
One of our favorite new baby traditions is to have a birthday party for the baby!
Of course, the birthday party isn’t so much for the baby, as it is to help your toddler feel excited about having a new baby!
Simply grab a few balloons, a birthday cake, and a few candles. (We love to use a “0” candle at our house!) Because the baby can’t blow out the candles, make a big deal about letting your toddler take over this important duty to help her new sibling.
If you can, you may consider purchasing a gift for your toddler specifically from the new baby. You can present this “birthday” gift to your toddler from the baby at the party too.
8. Set aside specific toys for your toddler to play with when you’re feeding the baby
Because you’ll be devoting so much time to feeding your newborn over the next few days and weeks, it’s a great idea to have a few specific, special toys that your toddler gets to play with when this is happening.
These special toys could be things like playdough, a new train track, building blocks – anything that will really capture your toddler’s attention and get him excited for the next time the baby has to eat!
(If you decide to give your toddler a birthday gift from the baby, this can also become the feeding time toy too!)
** If you’re planning on breastfeeding your baby, you will love this Breastfeeding 101 Course, it has so much information on nutrition, correct latch and positioning, tips and techniques, common concerns, what to expect, and so much more!
9. Pick up or hug your toddler as often as you can
Although your arms will often be full as you’re caring for your newborn, do your best to pick up your toddler or hold her as much as you can. Even if you’re recovering from a C-section, allow your toddler to sit by you, put your arm around her, or hold her hand.
According to Brad Reedy, the clinical director at Evoke Therapy Programs, physical touch is both grounding and comforting for kids, and can bring “great comfort and peace.”
While having a newborn is demanding in many ways, making an effort to maintain loving touch with your toddler can work wonders in helping her feel loved and secure as you all work together to welcome her new sibling into the family.
Final thoughts on helping a toddler adjust to a new baby
These nine simple and actionable tips to help your toddler adjust to a new baby can make the transition smoother for everyone involved!
Bringing a new baby home can be a wonderful and emotional time for everyone in the family.
Remember too, that it is absolutely normal if your toddler struggles with the transition of adding a new family member. Give him time to adjust, and do what you can to help him realize that he is still an important part of the family too.
Jen Bradley is a mom of five kids, ages 5-15 and as such has helped four very different-temperamented toddlers welcome a new sibling into the family!
She blogs constantly at www.jenbradleymoms.com, where it is her mission to offer actionable tips to help other moms simplify motherhood.
Whether you’re looking for ways to simplify your home, wardrobe, holiday celebrations, and parenting, she’s got ideas to help you make mom life simply more enjoyable!
***Don’t forget to check out these related motherhood articles:
- 8 Super Helpful Toddler Hacks
- The Ultimate Pregnancy To Do List for All Three Trimesters
- The BEST EVER Guide to Getting Fit After Pregnancy