Introducing the New Baby to Your Toddler
Tina Feigal © 2012
To bring a baby into a toddler’s life is a crisis for the former king or queen of the house. To leap over his or her feelings and just try to introduce a baby, expecting harmony, is not realistic or wise. Imagine your husband or wife saying, “I’m going to get a new spouse. It’s going to come soon, will be helpless, and a lot cuter than you, because she’s smaller. Other people will greet the little new spouse with joy and delight, and sort of give you a passing glance. Or worse, they’ll ask you if you like the new spouse, and fully expect you to show how happy you are that this intruder has arrived to take up your parents’ time and energy, so there’s less for you.”
See what I mean? It’s a huge thing for many children to have a sibling enter their world. And it’s also very good. They learn that they do share their parents with someone else, which is a very helpful lesson for the future.
To introduce the baby to a toddler, include the toddler in your talk about the baby, encouraging touch of mommy’s belly, talking to the baby (yes, he or she will find that little voice familiar and pleasant after the birth), and read picture books about the new baby. Show the toddler where the baby will sleep, what clothes the baby will wear, and how he can help. Making a helper out of your toddler goes a LONG way toward helping him adjust. Whenever anyone, even an adult, feels fearful, the best way to overcome it is to have a role to play to protect others. It’s the same for toddlers. If you say, “Your baby will need your help when he comes. I’ll have to ask you to grab a diaper or get me the pacifier. I am going to love having your help, because when you were a baby, I didn’t have a big brother or sister to help out. When the baby gets older, you’ll be teaching him everything you already know. You will always be the oldest kid, so you’ll have a lot to teach!”
Your toddler is VERY curious about every aspect of your new baby, in the same way that she’s curious about everything else. Encourage the curiosity, rather than forbid exploring the baby. Saying, “Don’t get too close,” sends the wrong message. Saying, “You love seeing her fingers and toes, don’t you? Let’s count them!” sends the message that you have a positive view of your older child’s perspective, which prevents and/or softens rivalry. If the touching is invasive or too rough, teach gentle touch directly, saying, “This is how we do it gently. Thank you for being so gentle. The baby loves that!”
For young toddlers, when you hold the baby, also hold the toddler. That’s why parents have two arms and two legs, a lap big enough for everyone. Invite the toddler for holding even when he doesn’t ask for it. This says, “You are still very important in my world, and I want you near me.” If you give the opposite message, “You need to grow up now because my attention has to be on the baby,” you are in for rivalry.
Have definite conversations, saying, “It might seem that since we have a new baby, I only love her, and not you. (Concrete concepts for concrete thinkers, which toddlers are.) But of course I still love you as much as I ever did! Love gets bigger when a new child comes, and now the love in our family is bigger than the whole world!
If the older child is melting down, don’t make it about the baby. It’s just his or her internal need to have something he or she can’t have, which would be happening regardless. Also, EXPECT a bit more melting down than usual when the new baby arrives, and you won’t be surprised by it. React with calm and reassuring words, and the meltdowns will subside. If you overreact, you reward them, and they stay a lot longer. If there’s a long tantrum, simply whisper, “Would you like to calm down now, or would you like to keep crying?” Whispering is highly effective, as the child has to stop to hear what you’re saying. Giving this in the form of a question puts the disempowered child in a place of decision-making and appropriate power. The more appropriate power he or she has, the less inappropriate power he or she will seek.
Follow your toddler’s lead on interacting with the baby and don’t push “love” on him. The love will likely bubble to the surface on its own, and then you can react to it with heartfelt appreciation. Make it normal and delightful that your older child loves the younger one. Don’t expect perfection, and you will have a happy experience introducing the new baby to your toddler.