Preparing your older child for a new baby and hoping they love and adjust to no longer being the baby is a real worry for most parents! After a lot of research and practical advice, we discovered tons of practical ways in helping a 2-year-old adjust to a new baby. Here are 16 things that yielded a huge success in having a second child with a toddler.
We’ve done plenty to mess up our first child, but we knew becoming a big brother and adjusting to a new sibling was one of those things we wanted to get right! I’m happy to report he had an easy adjustment to becoming an older sibling. From the first moment to six months later, we have an older brother who adores the baby. I researched, prepared and did several things that added to this success, and I can’t keep them to myself!
16 Ways to Help Your Child Adjust to a NEw Baby
- We gave him plenty of warning that the second child was coming.
I always think to the times of greatest anxiety in my life, and they were all big changes that I had little to no warning for. As an adult if you find out you have to move, you’ve lost a job, you’re getting a job transfer, etc. it’s always a big shock. Imagine having your spouse announce your in-laws are moving in with you and they are on your porch. I often think thrusting a new sibling on a young child must feel the same.
We started early. After we’d made the pregnancy announcement public, we told our toddler. He would have been told sooner but we knew he’d share the secret with everyone we met. The second it was fine to talk about it, we talked about it daily. He knew there was a baby in mom’s tummy. He knew mom was getting bigger. The change didn’t creep up on him, he had at least six months to prepare for this and let it sink in. Much like college graduation, when the date is set and you know it’s coming, it seems to be a lot easier to deal with.
Preparing a Toddler for a New Baby
- We pointed out babies everywhere. I’ll admit we were lucky that he’d point them out and ask what they were with interest young. But his compassion as a one-year-old was faint. As soon as I was pregnant our conversations and teaching about babies began. We’d see them at the park or other play areas and talk about how cute and little they are. He started to point and talk about them often. He started asking questions about why or how things worked for babies. I was thrilled to hear how cute he thought they were.
It wasn’t a foreign thing even though we didn’t have one in our home. He knew that babies were a thing, they were something you’re gentle with, and he started to realize that’s what was coming.
- We shared the baby’s name as soon as we settled on it. Typically, we don’t share until the baby is born. But with an older sibling, I think it’s a good idea to share as soon as possible. It humanized this little person.
He called the baby by name. He knew it was a little person and he started bonding with and praying for this little person. It was cute to see him tell adults all about little brother long before he arrived.
- Read a book about a new baby coming. I ordered BIg Brothers are the Best and we immediately added it to our library. They have a Big Sisters are the Best too. This book explained what life with a new baby would be like and helped him visualize. I’m pleased to say each time the new baby cried he started reciting reasons babies cry and how we could help the baby. He also understood why he couldn’t be loud when the baby was sleeping, what baby could eat, and that he had a new special role. 5 stars here, this simple book really made a difference for us! I’d highly recommend purchasing a book to prepare your child and open the conversation.
Helping 2-Year-Old Adjust to New Baby
- Give the older sibling a new cool room (here’s our toddler boy room reveal) and make the nursery look different. I really loved our Where the Wild Things Are Nursery and half planned to just keep it the same. One day my son said, “Mom do I have to give up my crib AND my wild things too?” My heart broke for him. He loves that book and loved his nursery!
Even though it was more work and more money, we opted to make his big boy room really special. He felt like he had a new exciting space to be in. The baby’s room also was completely transformed. I’m thrilled with The Wonderful Things You Will Be Nursery and think it made such a difference.
This really helped him feel like he wasn’t giving up all and being displaced. It felt like an exciting time with a new space for everyone. I think it also helped me mentally tackle the transition. I’d highly recommend making their respective spaces feel different and special in whatever capacity you can.
Preparing Your Older Child for a New Sibling
- Daniel Tiger saves lives. But really, we watched the Daniel Tiger episodes of mom having a baby several times and talked about them. He could see how mom and dad would go to the hospital. He could connect with the issues Daniel faced. Additionally, he learned cute songs and phrases from these episodes. We aren’t even big TV watchers (his attention span with tv isn’t long!) but this is one show we made sure we soaked in.
I also had us watch this the day after we came from the hospital as a refresher. The follow-up episode of sharing mom was the best thing for us as a first talking point. Particularly because that was his first issue. He cried one day and said, “it’s hard to share my mommy!” We talked about it and we watched these episodes again. They honestly helped!
Becoming a Big Brother/Big Sister: Tips for Adjusting to Life With Two
- Spend quality one-on-one time with your older child. It’s easy to get lost in the demands of a baby. The baby will always need you or want to be held. But I firmly believe it feels like being dumped when you go from a parents’ whole world to second place. Help them feel the love and attention they did before whenever you can.
- If dad can take the baby and mom can help the older sibling, do it! I’m nursing our newborn, so a lot of the baby tasks fall to me. But I’ll admit I can count on one hand how many times I’ve given the baby a bath. Dad can easily do that! He takes over the baby tasks and allows me to step in for the one-on-one time with the toddler. This is one small thing that helps the older child still feel like there is attention and love in their life. Dad gives quality time more often due to logistics, so making sure mom has time too is equally important.
- Audibly tell both children when it’s their turn. It may sound silly, but saying “I’m sorry you have to wait a minute, it’s the older sibling’s turn!” to the baby makes a big difference. Instead of only telling the toddler/older sibling they have to wait. They learn everyone has to take turns and wait. The more we did this, the more success we saw with our older sibling’s attitude. He was happy to share when he realized everyone had to share and wait a minute here or there.
Reinforcing Good Behavior
- Verbally give more praise and compliments. They are going to need to feel special. There’s a very good chance they will question where they fit in life now. I’m a firm believer that words of affirmation go a long way and complimenting everything they do right helps them realize how to act. It also helps them feel more love and attention.
- Have activities for them to do while you’re attending to baby’s needs. If I’m stuck on a couch nursing a baby, I don’t particularly want my toddler running around getting into everything. I really don’t want him crying and feeling bored or neglected either. That’s when naughty behavior happens. We bought several sticker books, a boogie board, and had his brother bring a new sibling gift to big brother in the hospital. These included strategic toys to keep him busy. I can write a whole post on just this, and maybe I will, but having a few activities planned and prepped so you can still feel together makes a huge difference.
Having a Baby with a Toddler: The Best Thing We Did to Prepare Him
- Get a toy baby for them to take care of. This may be my biggest tip, and what worked so well for us! My son had what I’ll call “sympathy pregnancy” pains. He would tell me couldn’t bend over to pick up his toys because the baby in his tummy was kicking him. He tried to get out of a lot that cute little punk!
When I had an induction scheduled, we had an exact day to brace him for. He asked if that would be the same time the doctor would get the baby out of his tummy and my husband and I became the spitting image of the wide-eyed emoji.
I looked to Amazon Prime to get us something quickly, and I ordered this exact baby. My niece has one, and it’s more like a stuffed animal with a magnetic pacifier. We figured it may be worth a shot to see if it sufficed him.
When he came to the hospital, he was so darling singing happy birthday to you to his baby brother. He was amazed he was real! We even pulled out the gift from little brother which was very exciting. But only a few minutes later he asked where his baby was.
We were so relieved to grab it from our hospital bag and say “Right here!” He clung to that baby and snuggled it just the mom snuggled little brother. Note that he took pictures from our fresh 48 session filled with pride that he had a baby too!
This baby has been swaddled when I swaddle brother. He’s had his diaper changed each time I changed our new baby. And he’s even been nursed several times. It’s funny, it’s cute, and best of all, it’s kept little hands busy.
He’s learned some responsibility and he’s also stayed out of my way with the baby. It lasted for about a month, and it was the best purchase possible.
Having a Second Child With a Toddler: You Can Do This!
- Have a fun outing planned in advance. For many older siblings, they have grandparents or a relative to dote on them. Many include a park day or a museum visit or just something fun. Then those relatives leave and they struggle all the more! If you can, plan a fun outing either big or small that helps continue the fun. We went to the aquarium when I was a few weeks postpartum. I also took him to a toddler time jump day. There were a lot of parents chasing tiny people and happy to help up a slide or something if I had to feed the baby. It let the older brother get out. He realized we would leave the house again someday. Also, it was a big distraction of fun for both of us that made him feel special.
- Remind them often that the baby loves them. Having a second child with a toddler is no easy task! Trying to remind them to be safe and gentle is a daily occurrence. But something beautiful happens, the baby almost always gives bigger smiles to siblings. We have laid this on thick since day one “Oh look, the baby loves you!” Or, “He smiles bigger for you than anyone else!” It helps created this bond of love and attention to one another. I’m happy to say it’s even more of a point of pride the older the baby gets.
Helping Your Older Child Adjust to a New Baby
- Ask a friend to host a playdate. I’m so grateful for a friend who took my oldest for a few hours one day those first few weeks. It was a moment he got a break from the change. He got to go have fun and do something special. It also reminded him that his entire world hadn’t changed.
- Give them something new and “big kid” to look forward to. Official preschool started a few weeks after the baby. I know it was a lot of change all at once which wasn’t ideal. But in a way, it was perfect. I’d talk to the baby in the car seat and say “I’m sorry you’re a baby and don’t get to have fun doing big kid things like preschool just yet!” As silly as that may sound, it worked!
When I think of helping a 2-year-old adjust to a new baby, this was our biggest thing! He realized he was growing up and heading on to bigger and better things.
This could mean an art class or a music class. It could be a playgroup or school. Maybe even swim lessons. As stressful as it can be to add something else to your plate, it really makes a difference for the older sibling! They are able to accept not being the baby so much better when there’s some other right of passage in their little world.
Of course, there are moments of relapse and times we’re focusing on reinforcing these things while adjusting to having a second child with a toddler. But I can confidently say the transition went pretty smoothly for us. We feel so lucky that a few easy things made all the difference!
And, I can already see where this good start set them up to be friends and love each other throughout their childhood and hopefully throughout their lives!
Photos by: Chrissy Blake
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