My firstborn was a little over two years old when we introduced her to her new baby sister. The moment is incredibly special, but as a mom, it was also a little nerve-wracking.
I had a million thoughts going through my head during the entire pregnancy about the moment they’d meet.
Will my eldest be excited? Upset? Jealous? Will she be gentle or will new behaviours come out? Will she even care? What can I do to make sure she feels loved and not replaced?
Every child’s personality is different, however, I’ve found that there are many things you can do to help encourage a positive experience for everyone. And you can start even before the baby arrives!
My top tips when introducing a toddler to a new sibling are to:
- Prepare them (without overwhelming)
- Speak positively around your toddler
- Take advantage of available resources
- Let them explore the baby’s gifts
- Include them
- Find neutral ground during the introduction
- Give a gift from baby
- Carve out 1:1 time
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Prepare Them (Without Overwhelming)
Going from an only child to a sibling can be a big adjustment for our little ones. They may feel confused or concerned, or possibly just excited! Either way, try to talk to them about the changes that will soon happen in your family.
Allow plenty of time for them to get used to the idea. You don’t need to go over all of the details the first time you mention your pregnancy, that might just be overwhelming.
Spend quality time discussing what a new baby means for the family. This could include different skills the big sibling could teach the little one or all the fun things they’ll be able to do as they grow up together.
As it gets closer to the due date, make sure your toddler knows what they will be doing when mommy goes to give birth. Whether it’s a family member, friend, or otherwise, get them familiar with the person who will be looking after them and find some fun activities for them to do on that day.
Encourage your toddler to ask all the questions they want. A lot is going on in that mind of theirs and you want them to know that they can always come to you with any thoughts or concerns.
It may be beneficial to also involve other family members in case they want to discuss something without the fear of making mommy feel sad.
Speak Positively Around Your Toddler
I know, pregnancy is not the most comfortable situation for many women. In fact, at times it’s downright painful and exhausting and all you want to do is share your frustrations with the entire world.
That’s understandable (and valid!)! But… do what you can to not complain about the pregnancy, or baby, in front of your child.
Don’t tell them that the baby or belly is making mommy sore or tired. Don’t tell them how you can’t wait for pregnancy to be over. And don’t blame all the things you can’t do with them on the pregnancy!
Toddlers are very perceptive little humans who are often protective of their moms. Imaginations at this stage are flourishing and what may seem like a casual protest from you may seem disastrous to them.
Be sensitive to their limited understanding of the world and your varying degrees of discomfort. Try to speak positively about the experience around them so that they will see their new baby sibling in that same light (rather than something that seemingly tortured mom for months on end)!
Take Advantage of Available Resources
Different resources can help you (and them) through this transition. There are many lovely books, shows and activities that can help prepare your toddler for this new experience. I’ll provide some examples below.
A lovely friend of ours gifted the book I Am a Big Sister by Caroline Jayne Church to my daughter and she loved it. A simple story, such as this one, clearly illustrated what being a big sister meant at a level my toddler could understand. We read it many times before and after her sister’s birth. This one is a sweet tale that explains how the character becomes a big sister and all the exciting ways she gets to help with her little sibling. There are many blogs with wonderful lists of more sibling books, perfect for introducing your little one to the idea and tailored more for your individual scenario.
Even screen time can help! One show we would watch with my eldest before my second daughter was born is Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. There are specific episodes that centre around the little tiger preparing for his new tiger sister’s arrival. Other episodes touch on certain moments that may come up as they grow together, such as sharing toys or dividing parents’ attention.
Another idea is to get together with other families you know with multiple kids so that they can tell your little one all about the great experiences that come along with a new sibling.
You can help encourage positive behaviours by always practising gentleness and care with your child. Role-playing with dolls or stuffed animals gives them a sneak peek of what will be expected and accepted.
Show them what soft touches are and praise them for being gentle (even when they are trying their toddler best). Calmly discourage movements that are too strong or hurtful for a newborn by demonstrating the right way. They can even practise by showing how loving they can be to that big baby belly you’re growing.
Let Them Explore the Baby’s Gifts
I’m not sure many people know about this trick but it works wonders! It’s as easy as letting your toddler touch and play with the new baby gifts you’ve received!
Ok sure, you’re not about to just toss those nice newborn items in the toy bin and you want to remind them that the toy is for the baby. But why not let the novelty of the items wear off before the baby arrives or at least before the baby has the cognitive development to recognize the gifts?
Forbidden objects are like magnets for toddlers, however, with permission and supervision, those baby toys will be old news to your “big kid” in no time! You can also motivate their new role by getting them to “show the baby” how the items work or teach the baby about what each gift is.
Your son or daughter will love getting ready for their new role by being involved right away. Throughout the pregnancy, include them where you can so they really feel a part of the entire process.
Bring them along to a medical check-up if possible so that they can hear the heartbeat. Take them shopping to pick out some things that you need for the baby. Perhaps you can even let them choose a few items for their new sibling. Ask for their help or opinion while decorating the baby’s room or setting up baby gear.
Toddlers love being special helpers and this will assist them in growing into their new helpful big sibling role.
The big transition occurs when the new baby comes home and your family is suddenly larger. Ensuring your toddler feels important and included can really help ease the adjustment.
Even when the majority of your time and energy needs to go to the newborn, there are simple things you can do to keep your toddler highly involved.
Ask them for help with simple tasks such as bringing diaper supplies, tossing laundry to the basket, or singing to the baby. Teach them doable tasks like gently patting the baby’s back to get burps out or slowly cycling their legs to release trapped gas. Most toddlers can’t resist giggling at their tiny sibling’s bodily functions!
Find Neutral Ground During the Introduction
Ok, it’s time to meet the baby! Whether at the hospital or home, try to find neutral ground for the siblings to meet. What do I mean by that?
If at the hospital, for example, leave the baby in the bassinet or in another family member’s arms when their sibling comes in. This is so that their first impression is not their exhausted-looking mommy holding this new baby who’s ready to take up 98% of your time.
It’ll also give you the first chance to smother your eldest with some love and attention. They probably missed you (whether it was hours or days!).
When everyone is cooing over the baby, coo over the big sibling. Tell them how lucky that new baby is to have such an amazing big brother or sister. It may seem simple but these little words can encourage a really positive bond between them.
When they’re ready, ask if they’d like to hold the baby (with your help, of course). But if they’re not feeling ready, don’t push it. The time will come.
Be mindful of other factors that may influence your toddler’s mood when introducing the siblings, such as time of day or hunger levels. You may not get the best reaction if they are ready for nap or needing a snack!
Give a Gift from Baby
Many families do this already but it’s a nice touch to have the new baby “bring” a special gift for their new big sibling. Hopefully, they’re young enough to not ask questions about how their baby sibling went shopping and will be focused on the awesome new thing they received!
My daughter received new baby doll that she was (and still is) absolutely thrilled about. This little pretend baby helped keep her occupied and practicing her big sister role when I was busy with her baby sister. She also felt included to copy what mommy was doing on a baby of her own.
A small gift or goodie bag is another positive reinforcement about how much their newborn sibling loves them and the excitement that comes with this big transition. Not to mention, a new toy, book, or activity is a great distraction for the hectic days ahead.
Carve Out 1:1 Time
Of course, the new baby will be taking up most of your time and attention, which is why it’s particularly important to make a conscious effort to have one on one time with your child. Devote some special uninterrupted playtime or snuggle time to your child, even if it’s in 10-minute blocks, so that they know that you’re still there for them.
Big changes in the house can lead to big emotions. It’s very beneficial during this time to keep open communication with your little one and invite them to be honest about their feelings.
As a mom, you want nothing more than to witness an immediate sibling connection. This may be the case for some but other times this just takes time. Your toddler may feel confused with the new situation or even bored with the newborn (not quite the “playmate” they were hoping for).
Be patient. Give them space and time to adjust (and get to know each other!). Soon the siblings will grow to love each other and before you know it they will be best friends with little-to-no memory of life without one another.
Now that you have two little ones to juggle, it’s especially important to understand how to safely manage your toddler and baby.