Toddlers are unable to fully understand or anticipate what to expect when a new baby arrives. (That’s no surprise— neither can you!)
And since toddlers also do not fully understand the concept of time, it is best not to start preparing them too early. Instead, wait until there are visual changes that you can show as “proof” that the baby is coming such as your growing belly or the new baby’s room.
Although your child may never fully grasp the idea until the baby is actually present, it is best to make the concept as concrete and visual as possible and to prevent adjustment difficulties by planning ahead.
Below are 6 suggestions on how to ease the transition.
1. Minimize Changes: Minimize changes and stressors in your first-born’s schedule at the time the baby arrives. Changes in childcare arrangements, moving the baby to a new room, potty training, or reducing dependency on a pacifier should be done several weeks before the baby arrives or postponed for several weeks after. This way, your toddler will not think the baby is at fault for unwanted changes in his routine or feel that he is being replaced by the new baby (e.g., the baby is taking ‘his’ room or ‘his’ pacifier).
2. Teach Delayed Gratification: Begin preparing your toddler to wait longer for things that he asks for so that he will adjust more easily when adults are unable to meet his demands as quickly as they did before the baby.
3. Bring the Baby to Life Before He is Born: When your belly is big enough for your toddler to think there may be a baby growing inside, start talking to your belly with your child and encourage him to do the same. Place his hand on your belly so that he can feel the baby moving. If you already have a name for the baby, share it with your child and have him use the name when he is talking to the baby.
4. Teach Him To Care For Babies: Get your toddler a baby doll, stroller, and pretend bottle. Show him how to hold the baby, feed the baby, and push the stroller. Although he probably won’t understand, try to explain that babies need to be taken care of and praise him for taking good care of the baby and being “gentle” with the baby. The baby doll will also come in handy when the ‘real’ baby is born. You can use the doll to keep your child occupied when you are feeding the baby by having him sit with you and feed his baby doll.
5. Minimize Jealously: Buy a stash of special “new big brother” presents in advance in case visitors bring presents for the new baby and forget to bring a second gift for your toddler. This way, he will not feel left out or jealous of the special attention the new baby is receiving. If you feel comfortable, tell adults who come over to greet your toddler first, before the new baby.
6. Increase His Exposure to Babies: Take your child to a friend’s who just had a new baby and try to explain to him that the baby in your belly will be like this baby when he is born. Show him pictures of himself as a baby and explain that the new baby will get bigger just like he did. Buy a few books about being a new brother and about a mommy having a baby. Books with real photographs are best.
After the baby is born, expect that your first child’s behavior will change in the short-term, especially attention seeking behavior. It is also common for a child to regress to infantile behaviors such as crying, crawling, or acting clingy. Behavior changes can be minimized by finding ways for your child to help with the care of his new sibling, not scolding him in any way for waking the baby or being too noisy while the baby is sleeping, and praising him for being a good big brother.
Also, try to set aside at least 5 minutes of special time each day to spend alone with your toddler without the baby.
This post was written with the help of my sister (known as Dr. B on my personal blog), who has a PHD in school psychology.