Adding a newborn to the family when you have a toddler can be both marvelous and overwhelming. I remember sitting in awe of how sweet my almost two-year-old could be with his new brother, excited for the relationship they would share. At the same time, however, I was shocked at how big my toddler now seemed and even a bit sad.
I worried about what I had done to him by bringing a sibling into his life; was this fair? Shouldn’t he still be the center of my attention? How would he cope with all the new challenges of having a sibling when he was still so little? And a host of other worries, but the exhaustion that comes with parenting two and then three very young children has allowed me to forget many of them.
I can safely say years later, those worries were needless. I love the bond my closely spaced kids share, and the intensity of parenting in those early years doesn’t last forever.
6 Tips to Help Toddlers Cope With a New Sibling
1. Stock up on toddler snacks.
Stock your kitchen (or let someone else) with easy-to-grab snacks for the toddler. Having some pre-filled sippy cups and single servings of foods such as granola bars, cheese sticks, crackers, and the like will give you both some grace when you can’t get to make a meal in a timely fashion, and you know that your toddler NEEDS to eat.
2. Sometimes, let your toddler come first.
Frequently, and for obvious reasons, your toddler hears that they must wait while you attend to the baby. When you get an occasional chance, let your toddler hear you tell the baby that he or she has to wait. For your toddler, it can be soothing to realize that you are tending to them first, and the baby needs to wait a moment.
3. Get a baby doll for your toddler to ‘parent'.
Get a baby doll small enough for your toddler so they can do baby-care pretend play with their doll. There will be baby care things your toddler wants to “help” with that are beyond their ability. Or there will be things that you need to do yourself for sanity's sake, and that's okay. A doll can be the perfect redirection when your toddler wants to play or help with the baby in a way that makes you uncomfortable. They may also be able to pretend-play some of their feeling with the baby doll that they can't enact with their real-life sibling.
4. Go ahead and watch a movie.
If the only activity you can muster with your toddler is sitting on the couch together, don’t beat yourself up. Lean into the moment and watch a movie you can both enjoy. You can still make it a chance to connect by talking to your toddler about the movie and snuggling together.
5. Teach your toddler movement songs to burn off energy.
Help your child burn off some of that toddler energy by teaching them some movement songs. For example: The Hokey Pokey, Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, Itsy Bitsy Spider, and Where is Thumbkin. Eventually, you can rest on the couch with the baby and sing for them while they do the movements.
6. Remember, adding a new little one to your family is a big adjustment.
It’s more than okay to meet your own needs when you finally set the baby down, whether you need a shower, a snack, or 20 minutes to read a chapter of your book, whatever fills your cup. Sometimes, you have to put your oxygen mask on first. You will be better able to help your toddler weather the slings and arrows of this new phase in life if you are not running on empty.
Helpful Books to Prepare a Child for a New Baby:
Albert's ABCs: A Sibling Story by Henry Cole – this adorably illustrated book is great for younger toddlers as it's very simple. It shows the mix of emotions that can come up for older siblings. Big Brother Alligator gets pretty irritated, then worried when his brother starts crying and looks lovingly at him when he falls asleep for a nap. It will make a great book to have conversations with your toddler to let them know it's totally okay to feel a mix of emotions about the new baby.
- Little Miss, Big Sis by Amy Krouse Rosenthal – is a sweet story of a little girl becoming a big sister. The text is short, simple, and rhyming, so it works well for young listeners.
- The New Baby – Mercer Mayer's familiar Little Critter has a new baby sister, and he gets to learn how he can help his mom and dad and what the baby will be like. This book helps give kids realistic expectations of what it's like to have a new baby in the family.
- Baby on the Way by William and Martha Sears is a great book for helping toddlers and preschoolers learn what to expect while their mom is pregnant. It explains everything about pregnancy, birth, and the new baby in age-appropriate ways. You can easily tailor the amount of information you give using this book.