5 Ways to Help Your Toddler Prepare for and Adjust to a New Baby

Photo of clients of mine who welcomed their second baby boy. Photography by me.

Yay! You’re having another baby! This can be a thoroughly exciting but also emotional and terrifying moment in a parent’s life. I will always remember, during my pregnancy with my second child, I had thoughts about how I could ever love another baby as much as I loved my first. I worried about how my daughter would feel about sharing me with her new baby brother. I was consumed with worry about her not feeling loved anymore. I know I’m not the only one, because in my work as a doula and birth photographer, this topic comes up more often than not during conversations with parents who are expecting their second or third babies. Here are some of my best tips!

1. Talk honestly with your child about what is going to happen. 

We are big on honesty in our household. My daughter was only just over 2 years old when I gave birth to my son, but during my pregnancy we talked about how this was going to be a big adjustment for her and for us. We discussed how mommy would need to hold baby a lot, and how I was going to be nursing this baby all the time, and how daddy was going to help with her bedtime routine from now on. Of course we said all the usual things like “Yay! You’re going to have a baby brother!” and “This will be so fun” but I think it’s really important not to sugar coat the experience of having a new baby in the house. It doesn’t help anyone, really. Helping your child have realistic expectations about what having a newborn in the house is like will save you a lot of unhappiness. Your toddler is smarter than you may think and more emotionally aware than I ever expected. By the time my son was born, my daughter knew what to expect and what was expected from her. 

2. Let your child have a few things they never have to share

So we are big on collective ownership at our house and also hand-me-downs, but there are a few things that my daughter never ever has to share with her brother. I think this is super important. It’s easy when you’re having a new baby to just assume that you can give all the “baby stuff” to the new baby and your toddler won’t mind. They’ve grown out of it and haven’t played with any of it in forever, right!? Wrong. I was surprised by how many things when I pulled them out, my daughter was very upset at the idea of giving them to her brother. So we let her pick out a few things that were just hers, that she didn’t need to share, ever. She also got to be part of going through things and deciding what to share with her brother and what would be donated etc. So she has the blanket that her Grammy knitted for her that she was wrapped in as a newborn constantly, her stuffed Timberwolf “Bolt” that she sleeps with, and really that’s about it. But she knows that if she wants those things and her brother happened to have picked them up, we always say “Sorry bud, those are hers and you can’t have them. Let’s get you your blanket (or toy)”. It helps them keep something for themselves. 

3. Encourage guests and well-wishers to greet your toddler first

Oh this was a big one for us! My daughter was the first and only grandchild on both sides of our family until my son came along. She was used to being everything to everyone in her life. When people would come by after I had our son, we noticed pretty quickly that when guests spent a minute saying hi to her, asking how she was, even playing with her for a few minutes before coming to see the baby things went a lot more smoothly and there was so much less jealousy and acting out. When I go to post partum visits for my clients I always greet the older children first, talk with them, etc., before even noticing the baby. Consistently I see kids relax once they realize that they aren’t going to be ignored in favor of the new baby. 

4. Talk to your baby like you talk to your other child

When you have a new baby you’ll constantly find yourself saying things like “not now honey, I’ve got to change the baby’s diaper” or “I just need you to be patient for a few minutes while I get your brother settled” or “I can’t hold you right now because your brother needs me.” Well this gets old quickly for your older child. My cousin, who has four children, gave me this sage advice and it served us brilliantly. Anytime you ARE spending time with your older child say similar things like “Okay baby, I’m going to read a book to your sister so you’re going to have to wait a few minutes until I can pick you up again” or “Baby, your sister needs some cuddles so you’re going to have share your mommy right now” and things of that nature. This really helps your other child hear that you are in fact trying to give equal attention to both of your offspring and not always telling THEM to wait, share, or be patient, but that you have the same expectations for both of your children.

5. Set aside time to do something special with your firstborn, just the two of you

This seems obvious and it is, but it’s still important! Even if it’s just going to the grocery store with your toddler and leaving the baby with your husband for an hour, it counts. Your older child now becomes the “big kid” who is capable of helping mom with the shopping! Play it up and your child will feel so much better about their place in your household. Every Tuesday my husband takes my daughter for pizza at her favorite pizza restaurant after he picks her up from preschool and I will take her shopping for groceries or to get a pedicure or to run an errand and she feels special and gets that much needed alone time with each parent. 

Good luck mamas! Feel free to leave YOUR favorite sibling advice in the comments!

This sweet girl getting to meet her new baby brother in the hospital! Photo by me