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How to Prepare Your Toddler For a New Baby

Latest Stories
Latest Stories

A paediatric psychologist weighs in.

Welcoming a new baby into the family with children is both exciting and a little worrying. Not only are you becoming a parent to a new little person, but your first child is becoming a sibling. Kids have no filter, so this news can be received with excitement, tears or largely indifference — we’ve all seen those TikToks. Regardless of how they take it initially, there are some things you can do to set your first-born up for success in their new role as the big sibling. Amanda Abel, paediatric psychologist and co-creator of Toddler Toolkit says, “Helping your toddler prepare for the arrival of a sibling should be an exciting and fun time,” but it’s important to get the timing right. “I recommend starting no later than 3 months before the baby arrives, and longer if possible, to give your toddler lots of time to understand what’s happening.”

Amanda’s Top Tips for Preparing a Toddler For a New Baby

  • Read books on becoming a big sibling, and talk regularly about the new arrival. You can talk to the baby through the ‘tummy telephone’.
  • Avoid vague references to the ‘big change’, especially if your toddler seems anxious about this big unknown. Pass this on to grandparents and other relatives.
  • Get familiar with babies with exposure and socialisation with them whenever possible so your toddler or preschooler becomes more familiar with what’s to come. This could include pointing out babies at the playground or at the shops and talking about them together, “look how tiny that baby is, do you think your sister will look like that?”. Role playing taking care of babies with dolls is another great way to get them feeling more familiar.
  • Explain what the likely scenario will be when the baby arrives, i.e. “Mummy will be in hospital, grandma and papa will come and stay here to look after you for a couple of days. Then Daddy will bring you to the hospital to see Mummy and the baby.”
  • Have routines well established before the baby arrives.
  • Avoid major changes in the 3 months leading up to the birth including transitioning to a big bed, moving rooms or even toilet training.
  • Work on building independent play skills where they don’t need you to entertain them so it doesn’t feel like you suddenly have less play time with them.

Once the baby arrives…

Despite how ready and excited your toddler can be before the baby arrives, the reality of a crying baby taking up their favourite people’s time can be a lot for a toddler or preschooler, and there are some common complications that can arise. “For toddlers having a new sibling is a novelty, they might enjoy the fuss and commotion, but soon the gloss will fade and typically the older child becomes difficult to manage at the 3-month mark.

Why 3 months? “This is the average window of time that a child will enjoy a new toy, before becoming tired of it and wanting to move on to something else,” says Amanda. “When it comes to a newborn, we can’t just pop them in a box at the top of the cupboard, so toddlers understandably become frustrated that this now-old toy continues to divert attention; in a nuclear family, they become especially perturbed by the decreased availability of their mother.” When this happens you might notice their sleep becomes more disturbed, toilet skills regress or they start seeking help for previously acquired skills like dressing or eating. You might also see them get more angry, and that anger be directed towards the baby.”

Thankfully, there are a lot of things you can do to redirect these behaviours.

Amanda’s Top Tips for Helping Toddlers Adjust to a New Baby

1. Involve them in parenting

Involve the older sibling in the care of the baby, even if it’s basic, like choosing the newborn’s clothes or fetching a nappy. When they say, “I can help!” embrace it and direct them on how to do it.

2. Celebrate their involvement with others

When visitors admire the newborn, ensure to mention aloud that the older sibling helped apply the nappy or chose their clothing. Then a visitor’s compliment directed to the newborn will be felt by the sibling.

3. Try not to ‘lose’ mum

In the setting of a breastfeeding mother, often the father or non-breastfeeding parent spends all the time with the older sibling. Aside from breastfeeding, there is no newborn task that a father can’t perform, so unless during breastfeeds, the newborn should be with the father as much as possible, freeing the mother to recover and replenish, while spending time with the older sibling. We have dubbed this “Cross Parenting” and go deep on it in our Toddler Toolkit parenting program.

4. Consider introducing a bottle

Doing this for one feed a day or so means that feeding can be done by both parents and the mother is freed to spend some one-on-one time with their older child, maybe doing their nighttime routine with them.


5. Have your older child help with chores around the house

This will give them purpose and feel proud that they are helping you. They can fill-up your water bottle, clean the windows or spray and wipe the counter tops. They can help you unpack the dishwasher or if they’re old enough, sort the washing into piles for each family member.

6. Praise

Always ensure you’re praising and thanking them for their help and good behaviour.

7. Keep their routine

While the rest of the house might have big routine changes, like mum and dad not working for a while, it’s important that, where possible, your toddler keeps their routine of daycare/preschool and activities like swimming, little kickers or other social activities. This also gives parents some time to just focus on the baby (or rest) and means you’ll have more to give your toddler when they are home. If you do decide to change some things, know it may be harder to get them back into the routine down the line.

8. Don’t blame the baby

Although your beautiful little baby is most likely the cause of many of your toddler’s frustrations, it is essential that your toddler doesn’t see it that way. Try to focus on what you can do, instead of what you can’t do. So instead of, “I can’t play with you right now, I need to feed the baby”, try: “How about you get the blocks out and start setting them up so that once I’m finished here I can come and play with you?” Even if you just play for a minute or two in between feeding and putting baby to bed, this shifts the focus.

A Note on Toddlers and Feeding the New Baby

Breastfeeding is one of the most challenging times to manage a toddler and a newborn as you can be literally ‘stuck’ while feeding. Amanda says it’s one of the key times parents report highly problematic behaviour with toddlers. “This is because your physical and emotional energy is focused on the baby, and your toddler knows this.”

“If you’re a breastfeeding mum you’ll be aware that you need to be completely relaxed for your milk to drop, baby to attach effectively and get a full feed in — this can be almost impossible when you’ve got a toddler: jumping on you, asking you to play/read/get them food, destroying something to get your attention.”

Amanda has lots of advice for this in her Toddler Toolkit program but her favourite is the ‘Exciting Box’. “Create a separate toy box or ‘Exciting Box’ that can only be opened at feeding time. You can decorate it together and discuss its special use when the baby is feeding and fill it with highly desirable toys and activities that don’t need your input e.g. play-doh, kinetic sand, colouring. Ideally these activities should not be otherwise available as this will make it more rewarding for your toddler at feeding time so they will play for longer. Pairing feeding time with these highly rewarding toys becomes something they look forward to so you’ll get some peace and quiet while you feed the new baby.”

Get $20 off Amanda Abel and Dr Golly's NEW Toddler Toolkit Program with the code: MEMO20.


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