Having another baby is such an exciting time. You and your partner are over the moon and want to tell the world, but what is the best way to tell your toddler about a new baby?
As you can imagine it is a major change for a toddler, welcoming another baby. It shakes up their entire world as they know it. Whether your toddler has older siblings or they are your first born, a new sibling is going to mean changes to their world. And this will bring up a lot of emotions for them.
When to tell your toddler?
Toddlers don’t really have a great sense of time. For them, 5 minutes sounds like an eternity. This means telling them early in your pregnancy can be difficult because they really don’t have a concept of the many months they need to wait until the baby is born. A longer wait time can also cause more anxiety for your toddler because it feels like an endless wait. For this reason, it can be useful to tell them later in the pregnancy. Perhaps at the 6-month mark instead of at 3 months pregnant when we mostly chose to tell friends and family. You may even want to purchase a book or two that shows what having a new baby is like.
What can happen once you tell them?
Be ready for some regressions in behavior. You may see your toddler act more babyish. Just go with it because it is completely normal, this may even happen as well after the baby is born too. Give your toddler lots of hugs and affection as that is what they truly need. If they express any thoughts on the new baby, even if they are negative, validate their feelings. It is perfectly normal for them to feel a myriad of emotions about the baby both before and after it is born. If you brush the feelings aside and perhaps say “no you don’t feel that way, you love ( or will love) the baby” then your toddler may feel like their perfectly normal reactions are wrong. And we certainly don’t want them to feel guilty for feelings they can’t control!
2 weeks before the due date…
It is important that your toddler knows, in the last few weeks before the due date or your planned c-section, what will happen when you have the baby. This is important no matter whether you plan a home birth where they will be around, or if you plan to have your baby in the hospital. Your toddler needs to know what will happen so that there are no surprises when the big day arrives. Let them know where you will have the baby, whether your toddler will stay with someone else during that time and who will be looking after them. Be sure to let them know when they will first meet their new sibling. And the most important thing to let your toddler know is that you will come back – just with a new little bundle of joy as well.
Once the baby arrives.
It can be lovely to have your toddler meet the baby in the hospital if that is your wish. Some parents even like to have a gift that the new baby gives to their older sibling. When introducing the new baby to the toddler, I often suggest doing it in a way that doesn’t make your toddler feel like their position in the family has been usurped (for lack of a better word..). This means it can be great for your toddler to be sitting on your lap while the baby is bought to them, so it doesn’t feel like the baby has taken that much-coveted position. Also introducing the baby to the toddler can be another great way of making your toddler feel comfortable and important – “baby meet your big brother….”.
The reality of the new baby affects toddlers in different ways. Some toddlers will be absolutely in love with their new sibling from the start. Others may feel ambivalence, upset or anger. Some toddlers may even be okay with the new baby for a while and then suddenly start expressing negative emotions. All reactions are absolutely normal. it is also normal to have a regression in behavior. An otherwise potty trained child may start having accidents.
If your toddler starts expressing negative emotions it is important, as I mentioned earlier to validate them and not brush them off. It is absolutely normal to feel like the baby is taking attention away from them and feel levels of anger and frustration because of it. Let your toddler know how important they are to you and that they are still your baby too. Carving out special 1:1 time with your toddler can also help show them how important they are to you. I often suggest that your special 1:1 time be led by your toddler. Do what they’d love to do with you!