If you’re concerned about how your life will change with the arrival of a new baby, imagine what it must feel like for your toddler who can’t really comprehend all of the implications of getting a new brother or sister.
“Your child is about to lose their status as the sole receiver of attention in your family, and that’s scary,” says Gauteng-based social worker in private practice, Kerry Lynn Sparrow. “They worry that the new baby may become more important, may be loved more, or may even be replacing them”. That’s why it’s so important that you carefully prepare your little one for the big event.
Laying the groundwork
Think carefully about how and when to tell your toddler about the imminent arrival. While there is no one right time to do so, it’s probably best to wait until about halfway through your pregnancy.
If they notice that something is going on, because you have morning sickness or are starting to show, for instance, it’s crucial that you let them know so as to prevent any unnecessary fears.
Sparrow recommends that you listen to them very carefully, talk to them about what’s worrying them, and try to address any concerns directly.
Reassure your toddler and create a sense of positive anticipation around the arrival of the new baby with these tips:
- Use every opportunity to tell your little one how much you love them.
- Emphasise how wonderful it will be for them to be a big brother or sister.
- Let them know what’s going to happen throughout the pregnancy and afterwards.
- Look at their own baby photos and tell them stories about how cute they were.
- Read children’s books about becoming a brother or sister to them.
- Spend time with friends who have a baby.
Get them involved
Involve your little one as much as possible in the journey, this will give them the strong sense that they are an important part of it. Here are a few ideas:
- Let your toddler touch your tummy, listen for the baby, and feel the kicking.
- Ask them to help you decide on a name for their new sibling.
- Take them along when shopping for baby goodies and get them to help you decorate the baby’s room. Consider sprucing up their own room a little as well – a few new wall posters or new bedding will make them feel special too.
- Go through their toys with them and ask them to choose ones they’ll share with the baby and ones that are off-limits.
- Make sure your little one also gets some small presents at your baby shower.
Smooth the way by letting your toddler visit you in hospital as soon as possible after the birth. Give them loads of attention, hugs and kisses before introducing them to baby. You might want to sweeten that first meeting by giving the big brother or sister a present “from the baby”. Alternatively, a “big brother” or “big sister” crown will make your toddler feel like a hero.
Show your little one how to hold their new sibling safely and gently, and ask them to help you with baby care: let them hand you nappies and choose the baby’s outfit for the day.
Remember that it’s all very exciting and overwhelming for your toddler, take it slowly and don’t be too alarmed if things don’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped – you’ll get there in time.
A growing family
Set aside special one-on-one time with your toddler every day during which you are completely available just for them. Ask favourite family members – grandparents, aunts and older cousins – to also spend time with them, and have plenty of fun activities and little surprise gifts like new colouring-in books and small toys at hand to keep them busy when you’re attending to the baby.
Finally, try to stick to their established routine as much as you can to maintain a sense of safety and comfort, but be prepared for some acting out and attention-seeking behaviour. “Be a little more lenient, but don’t throw all boundaries and discipline out the window,” Sparrow suggests.