79. How to Get Your Toddler Pumped For A New Sibling – Rose Hart-Landsberg
"One of the main reasons toddlers find new siblings upsetting is that the amount of focused attention they get drastically dwindles once the new baby arrives. Toddlers may not know what the phrase inverse correlation means but they recognize the concept when it happens in their own lives."
Toddler life is hard. You’ve got big feelings, a small vocabulary and very limited experience in the world. Your parents make all your decisions for you – what to eat and when, how often to bathe, they won’t even let you run around naked at 5 am gleefully yelling the swear word they accidentally said in front of you the day before. But you make do, you’re so cute your parents never stay mad for long and you keep them so exhausted they’re easily malleable. Then, just when you’ve got things all figured out a new baby shows up and changes everything.
Here are a few tips for parents to try when a second baby is on the way and big toddler feelings are only getting bigger.
Humans are hardwired for narrative. Check out your local library or bookstore for some picture books written specifically about what it’s like to have a new baby in the house and more generally, what it’s like dealing with change. Reading relevant stories to your toddler helps them process the situation and it clues them into the fact that other people deal with similar thoughts and feelings. When you read, make sure to stop and discuss the story. How is it different from your child’s experience? What does your child think about the way the child in the story handles their feelings? Fiction is an emotionally accessible way for your child to explore the different feelings and reactions they or someone else might have to a big change at home.
Language is important and it may be helpful to refer to the new addition as “your baby” when speaking to your toddler but it’s also important to back it up with actions. You probably don’t want a toddler picking out your new car seat but giving them small but visible decisions to make will help them feel included. Maybe your toddler can choose between two nursery themes you’ve already decided you like. You might even take your toddler to the store to pick out the new baby’s very first outfit. Creating a sense of ownership gives your toddler the idea that they’re not at odds with the baby, in fact, they’re just a new member of the family unit and belongs to your little one in the same sense that it will belong to you. Just make sure the decision you give your toddler is something you can live with, for example, if you aren’t ready for your baby to be named Stegosaurus Unicorn, maybe keep the naming decision between the adults.
Preparing for a new baby is a lot of work which as second time parents you already know, but this time it’s important to take some time out from baby prep to spend focused time with your first-born. One of the main reasons toddlers find new siblings upsetting is that the amount of focused attention they get drastically dwindles once the new baby arrives. Toddlers may not know what the phrase inverse correlation means but they recognize the concept when it happens in their own lives. You can schedule a trip to the Zoo or a walk to the park but if you’re strapped for time, designating something you have to do anyway, lunchtime let’s say, works just as well. Just make sure you remember to spend the time focused on your toddler with no talk about the new baby.
Even if you do everything perfectly (and let’s face it, you won’t) your child is still going to need an adjustment period and the best thing you can do is to let your toddler feel their feelings. (As if you had a choice.) If change is often hard for adults who understand context and have agency, then imagine how hard it is for a young child who never knew to expect such a change in the first place. When emotions run high, sometimes for seemingly unrelated or unimportant things, it’s a perfect time to introduce and reinforce healthy emotional habits. “I see you’re mad because the fork fell off the table. I’m sorry that made you so mad. Can you use your words to tell me what happened?” may sound like a silly thing to say, after all, you know what happened – your toddler got mad and threw a fork on the ground – but seasoned parents will know, it’s not really about the fork, the poor utensil is just the latest scapegoat. Using this style of conversation shows them how to express emotion through words rather than tantrums while validating their feelings at the same time. Eventually your child will learn that it’s appropriate and healthy to express one’s feelings but with fewer projectiles and more nouns.
Toddler life may be hard, but parent life is complex and adding more kids to the equation is not for the faint of heart. Hopefully these tips will help get you through the transition with enough stamina left over for the next 18 or so years. Good luck!
Rose Hart-Landsberg helps produce the Informed Pregnancy Podcast hosted by Dr. Elliot Berlin, DC and serves as managing editor of the new Informed Pregnancy Blog. She also spearheads podcast and blog sponsor partnerships and helps with various related content and copy writing for The Informed Pregnancy Project and Berlin Wellness Group. In her free time she enjoys editing and writing fiction, makeup artistry, and is currently learning Turkish.