10 Things (That Worked!) to Help Our Toddler Adjust to His SiblingEmily Malone
I know it’s super cliche, but it is truly so hard to believe that it has been a month since our newest little guy joined our family. In the months leading up to his arrival, I spent countless waking (and what should have been sleeping) hours planning, prepping, and stressing about how this would impact all of us, but namely – Cullen. I knew giving him a sibling was ultimately a wonderful thing, but I worried about initial transitions and how his world was about to change.
I am happy to say that one month in, things really couldn’t be better. Of course there are some things that could be — like Graham could actually sleep at night, and the bags under my eyes could be a lot smaller — but as far as our toddler’s transition goes, things seem to be going really well. A few months ago, I shared the ways we were preparing our toddler for a new sibling. And now I’m back to report on what we ultimately ended up doing, and what actually worked!
We got him involved. 1 of 10
As soon as we brought Graham home from the hospital, my toddler suddenly seemed loud and wild and dangerous. But I tried to shelve those thoughts, knowing that it was critical that we made him feel important as the new big brother.
I tried to find fun, safe ways to make him feel involved. He helps me pick out Graham's clothes in the morning — choosing between two different outfits. Or I do things like have him carry the Boppy pillow, hand me a diaper, or help put a blanket over Graham when he's sleeping. I didn't want him to feel afraid to be involved, and by guiding him in how to do that, I think he felt comfortable (but not too comfortable!) very quickly.
We let it happen naturally. 2 of 10
While we definitely encouraged and guided Cullen to engage and interact with Graham from the beginning, we also didn't push it. I'd ask him if he wanted to give Graham a hug or kiss, and if he'd say no then I would respect that. I knew his interest needed to come naturally, and I think it really helped to let him decide what level of involvement he wanted to have with him at any given time.
We tried to find fun activities for all four of us. 3 of 10
When we first got home, I was pretty limited in my mobility. But rather than have me camp out at home with Graham, and send Casey and Cullen off on adventures all day, we tried to find things that were fun for all four of us. We kept Cullen entertained with things like pumpkin painting, music and dancing, movie nights with popcorn, and more. It was really nice that we all stayed together most of the time, and I think it helped Cullen realize that Graham was a permanent part of our crew since he was suddenly always around.
We made individual time for both boys. 4 of 10
With that said, we also made individual time for both boys. During Cullen's afternoon naps, we soaked up Graham's snuggles and snoozes. And in the other times, we both tried to make sure we had some individual time with each boy. I had been used to spending all day every day with Cullen, so it was important to me (and him, I think!) that we still got to do some of the things that felt special to us — reading books before nap time, visiting our pumpkins on the front porch, and simple things like that.
We brought a gift with us to the hospital. 5 of 10
I wasn't sure what Cullen was going to think about visiting us at the hospital, so I planned ahead and bought him a new Cookie Monster stuffed animal that was "from Graham" and put it in my hospital bag. This ended up being a big hit! He seemed overwhelmed and nervous in the hospital room, but as soon as Cookie appeared he was much more comfortable. He knows that Cookie is from "Baby Graham," and I'm glad that's what he remembers from that first meeting!
We had plenty of extra hands around to help. 6 of 10
We spent our first week at home as just a family of four. The following week, my mom arrived and Cullen rarely left her side. During our third week, Casey worked from home as I started to ease into taking care of both boys myself. That weekend, my little sister and her boyfriend visited, and once again Cullen was showered with love and attention.
Even though we didn't have outside help right away, just having Casey at home (and not working) was a really fun treat for me and the boys. Having at least one parent or person focused on Cullen pretty much at all times ensured that he got plenty of attention and didn't feel slighted or suddenly less important.
I think this was a huge help in him feeling comfortable with Graham's presence, as he never really had any reason to feel jealous. It was almost four weeks before he was home alone with just me and Graham, and had to be a bit more patient and understanding. This slow adjustment made a big difference, and I'm glad the timing worked out so well for us to have so many helping hands around.
We spent a week alone as a family. 7 of 10
Like I mentioned, we spent that first week home alone as just a family of four. And while extra hands and outside help eventually became really important, it was critical for all of us that we have those first days together for just our immediate family. My hormones were out of control and I spent a lot of time crying. I felt pulled and confused, and really torn apart over suddenly balancing the emotions of loving two very different children.
If we'd had grandparents in town at that point, Cullen would have naturally gravitated to them, and I think that would have made the adjustment even harder for me. It also would have really cut down on how much time he spent with Graham. I was very glad to have help arrive when they did, but I am so grateful that we took a week to just soak up our family. It is one of the best weeks I can remember!
We had lots of exciting new things at home. 8 of 10
The timing of Graham's birth worked out really well, as Cullen's birthday was just 10 days later. Because of this, our house is now overflowing with new toys, games, puzzles, books, and more. Casey and I had also gotten a number of small, new things to give to Cullen as needed, that we bought ahead of time and stashed in our hall closet.
It has been a month, and he is still completely engrossed in his new toys and rarely wants to leave his playroom. It is so helpful for me that he has so much fun playing at home, and he's very independent and self sufficient. As far as new things go, they don't have to be expensive or fancy — many of Cullen's items were puzzles or books that cost less than $10. Toddlers can make fun out of something as simple as a bunch of cups or tupperware!
We stayed on schedule. 9 of 10
Despite being somewhat physically limited that first week, we really made an effort to make things seem as "normal" as possible for Cullen. We all still ate family breakfasts and dinners together at our kitchen table, he still went to preschool, and we tried to get out and about to some of his favorite spots.
We found fun things to do at home. 10 of 10
I mentioned some of these already, but because we needed to stay indoors more those first few weeks, we really tried to come up with creative ways to make it fun to stay home all day. One day we all stayed in our pajamas. Another day was "movie night," and we pulled out our sleeper sofa and popped a bunch of popcorn and snuggled up together. Arts and crafts, dance parties, and fun cooking projects were all big hits. I think Cullen really enjoyed just being home with mom and dad together because we usually only get to do that on weekends.