This House Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us (Or Is It?): How to Prepare Your Toddler for a Sibling
I have ruined four lives.
As the youngest of five boys, I was the fifth baby to come home from the hospital—ruining the perfect little world and lives my four brothers had built before me. Things were fine! they thought. Why add one more dweebus to the mix?
As the youngest of five boys, I also know two things for sure: 1) I have never had to experience my parents bringing home a new member of the family, and 2) My parents stopped having kids once they finally “got it right” (or, they had just given up trying; the phrase “quit while you’re ahead” comes to mind).
Now, as a father—despite never having to experience it as a kid myself—I find myself having to navigate this delicate situation. One month ago, my two-year-old daughter’s world came crashing down.
After countless hours of research, here’s how we prepared our little girl for her new sibling.
Waiting for Baby
1. Read Books
While my daughter loves “the choo choo book” (The Little Engine That Could) and “the Christmas book” (Twas the Night Before Christmas) and even “cheeka cheeka” (Chicka Chicka Boom Boom), we made a concerted effort to check out books from the library specifically about families adding a new member to their ranks. I don’t know how many times we read I’m a Big Sister and Hello, Baby! and The New Baby.
Why Am I Here? (Hardcover)
by Matthew Kelly
Illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
2. Show Pictures
Some of the new baby picture books you’ll get (if you heed number one above) will have illustrations of pregnant mothers, new babies, and even babies in utero. However, we also wanted to give our daughter a more scientific perspective on what is happening to her mother. This means tons of pictures of storks . . .
Just kidding. It really means magazines and internet printouts of actual images inside a mother’s womb throughout development. These amazing photographs help a young toddler realize that “there’s a baby in Mommy’s tummy” is more than just a fun, abstract concept. There actually is a baby in there!
3. Set (Low) Expectations
In an attempt to prepare a toddler for a new sibling, it is tempting to overhype the new baby. Saying things like, “You are going to have a new play buddy,” and, “You are going to have so much fun with the new baby,” mean well, but they might set unrealistic expectations.
The more you talk to baby, instead of just about baby, the more real things become for your toddler.
Instead, we made sure our daughter knew that the new baby wouldn’t be all that fun at first. We reiterated the fact that the new baby will be very small and wouldn’t be able to walk and talk and play like our daughter can. Not yet anyway.
Showing photographs and videos of your toddler when he or she was a baby is another great way to help your little one make the connection between Mama’s burgeoning belly and the new baby that will be entering your lives soon. Make sure you keep everything positive (i.e., try to not talk about how difficult newborns are or how difficult the pregnancy has been for Mommy). This also helps with number three above, as it shows just how small and frail a newborn baby is.
5. Talk to the Baby
We said prayers every night with our daughter, thanking God for the new baby and asking for help keeping the baby safe and healthy.
Our daughter loved hugging and kissing her mom’s tummy. If you’ve already picked out a name, you can help your toddler prepare by using it whenever possible. The more you talk to baby, instead of just about baby, the more real things become for your toddler.
6. Doll Toys
We already had a few dolls that our daughter played with, but if you’re expecting and don’t have a doll, I would recommend getting one (and yes, even boys can play with baby dolls). Our daughter just loves swaddling her dolls and even changing their diapers.
7. The Little Helper: Part 1
Let your toddler help prepare for the baby as much as a possible. Giving your toddler the chance to choose decorations and outfits and toys will help him or her feel involved. This will also be good practice for when baby comes!
Welcoming the Baby
1. Giving Gifts
Following the advice of just about every website I googled and every person I’ve ever met, we had a gift prepared for when the new baby came (a stuffed hippo!). This gift was from the new baby to our toddler. “Look what your new sister got you!”
You can also let your toddler pick out a gift to give to her new sibling. You might be surprised for just how long your toddler talks about these gifts!
2. Hospital Visit
If you can make it happen, have someone bring your toddler to the hospital to meet the new baby. If you do, be intentional with the timing. Ideally, the baby would be asleep in the bassinet (and not in Mama’s arms) so that both Mommy and Daddy can dote upon their toddler. Make the toddler a “bigger deal” than the baby.
This is a good time to give your toddler the gift from the baby as well.
3. Bringing Baby Home
Make sure you have the support available (for Mom and for new baby) to give your toddler a lot of attention on the day the baby comes home. Mom and Dad are going to be tired, and the new baby is going to be very demanding. These first few moments can make a big difference to your toddler’s perception on how “life is going to be from now on.”
Involving your toddler as much as you can will make him or her feel important.
Also, a newborn usually sleeps in the parents’ room for at least a few weeks (we didn’t move our daughter into her nursery until she was six months old), so you can ease your toddler into additional changes. Let your toddler keep her room for a bit. Maybe transition your toddler from the crib to a “big kid bed” a month or two after the new baby comes (if you haven’t already). Try to make changes as exciting as possible (and not “because the baby”), but spread it out.
Adjusting to the Baby
1. The Little Helper: Part 2
Involving your toddler as much as you can will make him or her feel important, and it will also make sure you are spending enough time with both children. “Helping” with diaper changes and bottle feedings and picking out clothes go a long way.
Quality time is the most important. Try to carve out some time to spend time with just your toddler.
2. Not Just the Helper
On the other hand, it’s important that you don’t overdo it here. You don’t want to focus too much on your toddler’s role as little helper. This can cause him or her to have some negative ideas about the new baby and how everything revolves around the baby.
3. Quality Time
This is the most important. Try to carve out some time to spend time with just your toddler. Moms should try to get as much sleep as they can while baby is napping, so this is a great time for dads to hang with the toddler. But when the baby is awake, dads need to step up and let Mama and toddler get plenty of cuddle time. Work out a schedule and keep at it.
It took a lot of planning and conversations, but we got very intentional with how we prepared our first child for the coming of our second child. Because that’s what it takes. Your little one is always watching and always listening. Always. And they remember everything. You’ve got to be mindful and diligent and consistent.
Bringing home a new person is world-shattering—but it doesn’t have to be. You can do this. And remember, all your little one really wants is to be loved.