There’s nothing quite as incredible as the arrival of a new baby. However, if you have a toddler or a preschooler, they may need a little convincing.
“Think about it from your toddler’s perspective,” says pediatrician Dr. Pilar Bradshaw. “They’ve had your undivided attention for however many years they’ve been alive and suddenly, literally overnight, they’re expected to give up half or more of that undivided time. So, just expect that from a toddler’s viewpoint, bringing home a new baby may not be as fantastic as the parents think it is.”
Toddlers are not developmentally capable of understanding that there will soon be a new baby in the house, even when you point to your growing tummy and try to explain it. Talking about the “new baby” with excitement can help them feel excited, too, but Dr. Bradshaw advises, “Set your expectations low. A child who is that young when a new sibling arrives is going to have intermittent interest in the baby and will most likely want to do their own thing.”
For children preschool-age and above, be honest with them about the new arrival and what that means. Explain that their new brother or sister will be cuddly and loveable, but they will also cry and need lots of your attention. Be sure to let them know that it will be a while before the baby can play with them.
In addition, consider these tips:
- Time major changes in your child’s routine. If you are planning to potty train your toddler or transition them from a crib to a big kid bed, aim to do it well before your due date. If that’s not possible, wait until your family settles into a new routine with the baby. Too many transitions at one time can be overwhelming for young kids.
- Invite your older child to help get things ready for the baby’s arrival. Children can help their parents fix up the baby’s room, pick out clothes or buy diapers.
- Find opportunities for your child to care for their sibling. Ask your child if they would like to entertain the baby while you are changing their diaper or bathing them. These moments give an older child a chance to interact with their new sibling in a positive way.
- Praise positive behavior. Be sure to notice and commend your older children when they show gentleness and love toward their new brother or sister.
Above all, Dr. Bradshaw says, make time to let them know how much you love them. “I strongly recommend special parent time where the older child gets picked up by their parent and given lots and lots of hugs and reassurance. Reassure them every single day that the one-on-one relationship that they’ve always had with you is still intact; it’s still there, even though there is a new baby in the house.”
Regression is normal
When a new baby arrives, it’s not uncommon for a potty-trained child to start having “accidents,” attempting to crawl into the newborn baby’s crib or wanting to drink from a bottle instead of a cup. Regressing to more baby-like tendencies is normal, so let your child have the attention they need, but be sure to praise them when they act more grown-up.
If your child expresses no interest in the baby, don’t worry and do not try to force a connection. Dr. Bradshaw says that on average, it can take 4 to 8 weeks before an older child is consistently happy about having a new sibling.
Ask for help if needed
Adding a new baby to the family is a transition for parents, too. Keep in mind, you may not be able to satisfy the needs of your children all the time—especially not by yourself. If you feel overwhelmed, lean into your partner, other relatives and friends for help and support. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, talk with your pediatrician.