A once well-behaved and lovable toddler can become an entirely different child following the birth of a brother or sister. He may become aggressive, un-cooperative, stubborn, clingy, noisy or easily upset. He may even bite his sibling or others, scream excessively or cry a lot. Accepting a new baby takes adjustment and time and the toddler needs to be handled sensitively and sensibly. A toddler under 3 tends to act on impulse and has difficulty recognising and managing his feelings. He also wants to be independent. Once a toddler reaches around 3 years old, he is usually better able to express his feelings, needs and opinions in difficult situations or conficts. He is better able to resist the urge to harm others or property, especially if disciplined appropriately. My suggestions are as follows:-
Some jealousy from a very young sibling is normal and needs to be expected and allowed for.
It is good to help your toddler to feel grown up and competent by giving her some tasks to do that she is keen to do. It may be simpler, quicker and easier to do them yourself, but we need to consider the toddler’s wellbeing. Eg getting a nappy or wipe for mum or dad, entertaining the baby, getting an item of clothing. Let your child know that you appreciate her help and that she is able to do certain things that the baby can’t manage yet, but will be able to in the future.
Express love and affection frequently
Cuddles, hugs and kisses need to be given to our toddler (as well as the baby) often, to show that we love our child unconditionally.
Hospital visits for your toddler
Try to get hospital visitors to engage with your toddler when he visits. You can prompt visitors by talking about your toddler in a positive way with specific words of encouragement. It’s a good idea also to organise some simple activities for the toddler, that don’t create much mess. Your toddler will also feel important if he can introduce the visitors to his baby brother or sister.
Give and organise plenty of attention
Children (and teenagers) never get tired of showing off, and we would do well to notice and comment enthusiastically. It is valuable to give our toddler time with mum and dad and with Nanna and Pop or with siblings or close trusted friends, if possible.
Children need lots of opportunity to verbalise their feelings and thoughts. They need to feel accepted and validated when they do so. We can give our toddler the opportunity to draw or act out her feelings too, especially toddlers who don’t speak very much.
One on one time
Our child will feel very special if we can give, or organise, time for him to play or go out with mum, dad, Nanna, Pop or another trusted and well-know person. This individual attention will help your child to accept the new baby and to feel loved and loveable.
Teach appropriate behaviour
Young children need to be told and shown how to interact with their baby sibling in a calm and soothing manner. They need many gentle reminders from a patient parent or carer, but not nagging.
Encourage appropriate behaviour
Toddlers can be encouraged for improvement, effort, co-operation and for their strengths. Focusing on what your toddler is doing right will improve your child’s behaviour dramatically, if it is done on a regular basis.
Do not allow hurting behaviour
Tell your child to stop hurting a person or animal or to stop being rough with property. She needs to know and be told what she can and can’t do on a consistent basis. We need to be firm and authoritative, not passive or authoritarian.
If you can see your child’s behaviour going downhill, it is often a smart idea to give your child an alternative activity or to suggest something else he could do. This proposal could be related to the activity he is engaging in. Eg if he wants to jump near the baby, he could be steered toward a large cushion nearby. If he wants to dress or wrap the baby, he could be given a baby doll to care for.
Immediate consequence for hurting behaviour that continues after telling child to stop
If the toddler continues to hurt the baby or another child, she needs to be told firmly to stop. If she doesn’t, she needs to be told to play away from that child on her own for a couple of minutes. If she continues with the naughty behaviour, she needs to be led to a mat, large cushion, bean bag or spot nearby and asked to stay there for 2 minutes. If the child moves away, she needs to be taken back to this spot and kept there for 2 minutes (1 minute per year of age). If this is done consistently the child will get the message that it is totally unacceptable to hurt another person (or animal). Consequences need to be respectful, reasonable and related (if possible) and applied straight away.
Children thrive on positive power. We can give limited choices in many situations eg. Would you like to eat this or this? Would you like to wear this t-shirt or this one? We can ask their opinion on something or give them a say in what is going to happen. We can get their input on the running of the household or the choice of a game to play during one on one time.
Physical activity – inside and outside for toddler and parents
Children and parents need lots of physical activity on a regular basis for health, immunity, fitness and to deal with stress effectively. During physical activity, children are developing gross and fine motor control and hand eye co-ordination. Going for walks with the baby in the pram or sling is an excellent way to get exercise, fresh air and conversation.
Having a daily routine will provide some predictability for your toddler and yourself which will be settling for all family members. Whilst it is preferable to have a routine, there are occasions where it will be broken and we need to have the flexibility to go with the flow. This will be beneficial for our children as well, so that they learn to manage change in positive ways.
I would strongly recommend that parents don’t try to do too much after a new baby comes along. This is a good time to prioritise, delegate and ask for some assistance. This is the time for parents to ensure that they are getting proper nutrition and water; that they can lean on each other for help ; that they can ask relatives and friends to pitch in with shopping, looking after the toddler or baby, etc. When the baby is asleep, mum or dad can either play or read or lie down with the toddler. When the baby and toddler are asleep, mum or dad can catch up on sleep or do something she or he really enjoys. Another family member or friend can play with the toddler while mum or dad and baby have a snooze.
A calm and friendly demeanour most of the time will send the message to your toddler that you are in charge of your emotions; that you are in control.
Prepare child for birth of sibling
Your toddler needs to know what is coming in the future. Let him know that you are having a baby, but it won’t be for a long time. Let your toddler feel the baby kicking and show him what the baby looks like at different stages by borrowing or purchasing some good simple books. He needs to be part of the whole build up of this exciting and significant milestone. He needs to know, in simple language , when you are getting ready to have the baby and that the baby will cry and sleep a lot in the beginning. It is wise to explain where the baby will come from; the fact that the baby will be small and unable to care for him or herself. He also needs to know that he will be able to play and talk with the brother or sister more when he gets older.
Minimise changes around the birth of child
If you have decided to move your child into a bed, it is best to do this well before the baby is born, so that the child has a feeling of security at this time, particularly at bed time. It is good to explain what will be happening to your toddler when ‘mummy’ has the baby. It is also wise to get your child used to her father or other significant family member or friend so that she is happy to spend some time with this person.
Keep safety uppermost
When the baby comes into your lives, the toddler will still need to be carefully supervised and kept safe. It is smart to get into the habit of putting sharp things, cords, chemicals, medications, appliances, hot things, containers or water etc out of reach. A first aid kit needs to be kept complete and in one safe place.
Stimulating and relevant activities
When feeding your baby, you may like to encourage your toddler to feed and attend to a doll or soft toy close by. A drink can be given to mum and the toddler during feeding time. The toddler can be provided with special toys and books that the baby doesn’t have access to, so that he feels more grown up and responsible. These things can be brought out when the baby is asleep.
Enlisting help is vital after the baby is born and you are not expected, nor need you try, to be a supermum. After your second child is born, your toddler will learn, first hand, about another human being; her or his temperament, child development, sharing skills, taking turns and negotiating and gradually understand feelings and needs of others. Toddlers teach us parents to be adaptable and flexible, and to how to problem solve.