Have you, or are you getting ready to add a new baby to your family? Are you worried about how your older child(ren) will respond to this transition?
Introducing a new baby into your family is a time of excitement, but it can also bring up many challenging feelings.
When I had my second baby, I was surprised by the intensity of my feelings—both of joy and anger. I remember going from so much joy to feeling overwhelmed, angry, missing my oldest, and wanting my newborn to myself – all within the same hour!
I share this to let you know you aren’t alone in the range of emotions you may experience when adding a baby.
If we as parents can feel these different emotions during this transition, you can imagine what our toddlers are feeling. They are used to being our babies and having our undivided attention. Now, overnight, they have to learn to share us with this new person they have never met.
Before the baby comes
1. Maintain expectations
There will no doubt be challenges in this transition. It may involve testing limits, emotional tantrums, and more. Knowing this, we can set up realistic expectations and prepare as best we can so we can remain calm for our toddlers when these challenges come. Having proper expectations can help set ourselves up for success instead of disappointment.
2. Maintain communication
“We are going to have a new baby soon. Life is going to look different. Mommy and Daddy might be really tired sometimes, and the baby might cry. Do you have any questions about this?”
Keep the lines of communication open with your child. Let them know you are ready to answer any questions they may have.
3. Allow for their feelings
Make sure your child knows it’s normal for them to have big emotions and that other kids feel this way too! Let them know they can always share with you how they feel.
4. Teach words for feelings
Teach older toddlers words like jealous, excited, and frustrated before the baby comes! This gives them the vocabulary to explain and share their feelings with you!
5. Use stories to explain
Small toddlers may struggle to understand what “having a new baby” means. Use stories, books or videos to explain what will happen when the baby comes!
After the baby comes
6. Remind them they haven’t been replaced by their new sibling
“You are a big sister now, AND you will always be my baby. I love you.”
Many children revert to old, baby-like behaviour to try and remind parents that they are still the baby. When we show children we remember they still have the same needs as before the baby arrived, we can avoid many of these challenging, attention-seeking behaviours.
7. Teach them a signal for when things feel challenging
“Having a new baby is exciting, AND it can be tricky sometimes. Let’s have a signal for if things are feeling tricky for you so you can let me know right away!”
This reminds them you are on their team and want to help them with their big feelings.
8. Let them be curious about the baby
If you see challenging behaviours like hitting, biting, or rough playing with the baby, it usually means your child is trying to learn how to interact with this new baby. Support them by allowing their curiosity, letting them ask questions and guiding their hands.
9. Let them know they can be both little and big
“You are a big sister now, AND you will always be my baby. I love to hold and snuggle you too.”
It can be powerful to tell our kids that we love how they are big helpers and absolutely love watching them as an older sibling, but if we only focus on our toddlers being big kids and big helpers, it can leave them feeling conflicted. They have always been the baby, and when they see you with the new baby, it may make them feel a sense of loss over no longer being the baby in the family.
10. Proactively build connection time with your older child
Help your child get the connection time they had with you before the new baby came into the picture. This might look like this:
- Having 15 minutes of one-on-one time every day (could be watching a show together, colouring, playing on the floor, reading, etc.)
- Reminding them how much you love them.
- Building in time for snuggles.
- Surprising them by doing something over and beyond what they ask of you! For example, if they ask for a drink, bring them the drink and pretend they are a King/Queen and you are at their service, making them giggle and connect with you.
Adding a new baby into the family is a HUGE change! Expect that it will be a challenging transition, and remember that it’s OK if these changes are hard for you and your children. Focus on connecting with your children and letting them know they are loved.