You imagine that tender, camera-ready moment when you introduce your beloved toddler to your sweet newborn. What you may not anticipate is the dramatic way your first “baby” will suddenly look huge compared to your tiny infant. Like you, your toddler may feel surprised, and perhaps overwhelmed, by the activity, changes and new emotions connected with the arrival of their little sibling.
Without the communication skills to properly express their complicated emotions and new competition vying for precious parental attention, tantrums or developmental regression may even happen.
These tips may help your toddler make a smoother transition during this very special (and sometimes stressful) time in the life of your growing family.
- Show, don't just tell. Before the “big day” arrives, ask a friend with a newborn if you and your toddler stop by for a short—carefully supervised—visit. Letting your toddler see how a baby looks, moves and sounds may help to set more realistic expectations before you bring home a helpless newborn and not an instant playmate.
- Involve them. Toddlers love to be in on the action, whether you are making pancakes, folding laundry or doing dishes. Play into their natural desire by letting your toddler “help” as you bathe or diaper the baby. While watching your face, hearing your quiet tone and seeing the way you gently kiss or pat the baby, your toddler will pick up cues from their first and favorite teacher — you — about what babies need.
“Parents need to be protective and keep a watchful eye on those early interactions between their toddler and infant,” says pediatrician Sandra Kilian, M.D. “When mom or dad hear their toddler say kind words to the baby, or offer a gentle hug, parents can reinforce their toddler’s nurturing behavior by heaping on the praise.”
- Don't blame the baby. There’s no denying having a baby in the house requires making adjustments. Your schedule naturally revolves around the baby’s needs for sleep and nourishment. To help ward off your toddler’s potential resentment over changes in their routine, be careful not to blame the baby for what you can or cannot do. For example, rather than saying, “We can’t go for a bike ride because the baby is sleeping,” aim for alternatives. “We can go to the park after lunch.” “I can read to you at bedtime.”
Learning to welcome a new sibling, share a parent’s time and accept limits is a lot for a toddler. A parent’s praise and patience, along with plenty of hugs and kisses, can help a toddler grow into their new role feeling proud and reassured.
Talk with your family doctor or toddler’s pediatrician about any specific concerns you may have related to helping your toddler adjust to becoming the big sibling.
To find a doctor near you, visit cengkon.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936). If you are in the Jackson area or south central Michigan, or call 1-888-862-DOCS.
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Dr. Sandra Kilian is a board-certified pediatrician and provides care for children through young adults at Henry Ford Allegiance Pediatrics in Jackson.