How can you prepare a toddler or older child for a major change to their environment, family, view of the world and their place within all of this?
So the new baby arrived about 4 weeks ago. My first born (21 months at time of arrival) appears to have taken this well. He has been quite interested in the baby and wants to give him lots of kisses. He has occasionally been a bit possessive over things such as the bouncy chair that we set up for the baby. The toddler did not want baby to sit in it at all and got quite upset. Well, I suppose the chair did actually belong to the toddler in the first instance! Anyway, this made me think about how we prepared the toddler for this massive change to his life – i.e. that he was not the only child and mummy and daddy would be giving time and attention to someone else.
Before the new arrival:
We started talking about the baby long before he was due
We talked about “the baby” and what was in mummy’s tummy. Toddler often pointed to my tummy and referred to it as the baby. Maybe this change in narrative has set up something around there being something new coming.
During pregnancy I started to talk about being “careful” and “gentle” because the toddler was accustomed to climbing over me, being picked up, sitting on me etc. Initially I was feeding toddler (more of a baby earlier on in the pregnancy) and had to adopt different positions as the weight was too much across my stomach and also had to watch out for kicks or pushes to my stomach, so we have both been aware of the “carefulness”.
We’ve continued the gentle and carefulness now the new baby has arrived, but as discussed this has been set up now for some time so it’s part of our awareness and behaviour around “the baby”.
We read books about becoming a big brother and new babies
Continuing with the narrative change idea we bought several books written especially for toddlers and young children about welcoming another child into the family. We read books every evening as part of the bedtime routine with the toddler and so it was normal for him to explore books. I’m not sure how much he took in or if he can relate the books to the situation he is now experiencing but i’m hoping:
1) They started to introduce the idea of another child coming, that this is something that happens in families, normalizing the experience and,
2) Gave examples/modelled what other children experienced during this time of change
Once the baby was here:
Keeping the toddler’s routine and schedule the same as usual (or as close to)
Consistency and predictability are important. Keeping things stable and “as normal” were important things for us to do with our toddler once the baby arrived. This meant keeping the same nap routine/times, bedtime and routine, meal times, etc so that the toddler could feel secure and stable in his usual day-to-day activities and that he didn’t experience everything as being “thrown upside down”.
If you can’t do practical/physical things as you would usually, social and emotional aspects are also important e.g. the conversations and interactions you have.
We bought a present to the toddler, “from” the new baby
We bought the toddler a present and we said it was from the baby. This had two benefits (or maybe more I haven’t thought about). First, it kept him busy and interested in something immediately after we got home with the baby and were slightly distracted by all things new baby related. Second, hopefully it meant that the toddler was being thought about, kept in mind, cared about and valued. Although, that said, I’m not sure what stage the 21 month old is at developmentally in terms of being aware of himself in other peoples’ minds, theory of mind, etc – but hopefully it meant something to him to receive a present.
I’ve spent one-to-one time with the toddler
Whilst Daddy looks after the newborn for a few hours I’ve taken the toddler out to the playground, the shops, and other activities that we would normally do together (see above about keeping things familiar and consistent). I’ve also done this in the house by just going to play with him by myself while the newborn has a (long) nap and is watched over by Daddy.
We’ve shared some activities (toddler + baby)
We’ve shared the same play space and toddler has helped show interesting toys to the baby.
There’s not that much stuff the newborn can do, but tummy time is one of them. The toddler was very interested in the baby’s tummy time and wanted to practice “rolling over” too (not that the baby can do much of that at this stage!). So I put a blanket down on the floor for the toddler so he could practice rolling, along with the baby (while I made sure the toddler didn’t roll into the baby!).
Some thoughts a few months post baby:
Here’s some other things we did that I found useful when the “new” baby was a few months old:
Giving the toddler a role that involved him: this let me get stuff done around the house and hopefully gave the toddler a sense of importance, responsibility and attention:
e.g. helping with chores, fetching items (can you get me that nappy from the box), can you put this in the bin for me please? And thanking toddler for his help.
Actively and explicitly displaying to the toddler that sometimes they come first and attending to their needs:
e.g. saying things like “Ok baby, i’m going to change toddler’s nappy now and when i’ve finished then I can come to you”
Things I’m planning to do
Buy a double buggy or some system where I can take both of them out. The toddler and I go to different classes and meet with other parents and babies, so I feel it’s important to keep going with that and book us into a few things (we were doing football previously). BUT – I need to be able to get out of the house so double buggy shopping is on the agenda!
I have a baby carrier/sling but want a structured “clip and go” variety for ease. I’m feeling I’m going to be slinging the baby a lot, but I need to read reviews and see which one is good in terms of usability, ease and importantly keeping baby in a healthy position!