Adding to the family

toddler kissing a pregnant stomach preparing for the arrival of a baby

Change can be difficult for all of us. This is especially so for toddlers and young children when there is an arrival of a baby in the family.

Congratulations – you’ve just found out you’re pregnant!

This is a very exciting time. If you already have a child there will be a new dimension to the pregnancy as you consider how the older child may respond to the news, and you plan how you’re going to be a parent of a toddler and a baby.

You may wonder how you will divide your love, time and attention between your older child and a baby. It may help to spend some time thinking ahead, trying to see the situation from your toddler’s perspective and planning so that the baby’s arrival can be exciting for all the family.

How can I prepare my toddler for the arrival of a baby?

It can be quite a big transition for children when a baby arrives. Where once they were the centre of attention, they now have to share your time (and eventually their toys). These ideas may help:

  • Talk to your older child about the baby in
    your tummy and let them touch your stomach gently and talk to the baby. They may even enjoy going with you to an ultrasound and listening to baby’s heartbeat.
  • Explain to them about who is going to look after them while you have the baby.
  • Include your child in getting ready for the new baby, such as inviting them to make simple decisions about the baby’s room – e.g., where the cot could go.
  • Make any major changes, such as moving your child from a cot to a “big boy/girl bed” or changing bedrooms, before the baby arrives.
  • Giving your older child a gift from the baby may help them to feel special.

As your pregnancy develops, you may find your child at times seems “clingy” or behaves in unexpected ways – e.g., appearing aggressive or boisterous. It will help if you notice the times when your child is behaving well and praising or rewarding the good behaviour with a story, a walk or trip to the park.

Let your child know that it is okay to feel confused, upset, disappointed or angry but it is not okay to hurt either you or the baby. Help them find other ways to express their emotions, maybe through an activity or perhaps by talking about it.

When baby arrives

It will be easier for both you and your older child if they are with your partner, family/whãnau or a close friend while you’re in hospital. It may be a bit difficult for you being away from your child, especially if you’re in hospital for a few days – if, for example, you have a caesarean section. Most hospitals have flexible visiting policies and children are welcome to visit their mother and new brother or sister.

The first meeting is always very exciting so try to involve your child as soon as you can. Giving your child a cuddle while introducing them to their new brother or sister can help to reassure them, as well as making them feel more comfortable. You may also want to involve your older child by:

  • Teaching them how to cuddle, touch and talk to the baby safely, while you watch. Toddlers and older children will be interested in touching the baby and need to be taught how to gently handle a new baby.
  • Talking to your child about how to keep baby safe – e.g., that only adults pick baby up; that baby does not eat anything other than milk.
  • Talking about how they are feeling and telling them you love them will reassure them that they are important and help them accept the baby.
  • Asking friends and family to remember your older child and give them some special time, especially if it seems everyone is interested only in the baby.
  • Limiting discussions with others about how your older child is adapting to having a new sibling to when your child is out of earshot.
  • Trying to include your older child in the baby’s care by fetching nappies and toys and helping to bath the baby. Talk to your child about what you are doing.
  • Talking to them about when they were a baby – showing photos of them as a baby might also help.
  • When you’re feeding the baby, have books or games ready for your older child. They may enjoy hearing a story or playing quietly next to you.
  • Trying to spend fun time alone with your older child.

Coping with behaviour

Change can be difficult for all of us. Toddlers and young children can find it hard to control their feelings and cannot always say what is making them feel unhappy or angry. There may be times after a new baby arrives when your older child becomes frustrated or aggressive. They might hit or throw something at their
new sibling or even you.

Try to recognise this as an expression that your child is feeling stressed or unsettled by the changes in the household. Think of ways to reassure them so that at times when they’re upset it doesn’t get to the point of your child losing control.

Children need love and encouragement to behave well. You could try:

  • Making a regular time for a story so your child knows what to expect and can look forward to quiet, special time with you.
  • Praise your child for all the good things they do.
  • Talking about everything you do and involving your child in some of the decisions about caring for the baby – e.g., helping to choose baby’s clothes.
  • Using time-out may help everyone to calm down if a situation escalates.
  • When you’re alone with your child, encouraging them to talk to you about how they’re feeling.
  • Trying to keep up as many of your normal activities as possible – e.g., going to the park or playgroup together.

Your older child may become more demanding or go back to behaviour you thought they had grown out of. For example, they may start wetting their pants, or want to drink from a baby bottle. This is normal. Try not to worry about it, it is usually short-lived.

Your child will go back to more grown-up behaviour as they become more used to being a big brother or sister, especially if you encourage all the good things they do.

Remember that children are individuals and all react to change differently.

For more information, support and advice talk to your Plunket Nurse or call PlunketLine 0800 933 922 (7am-midnight).

[pullquote]Let your child know that it is okay to feel confused, upset, disappointed or angry but it is not okay to hurt either you or the baby. Help them find other ways to express their emotions, maybe through an activity or perhaps by talking about it.[/pullquote]

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