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Parenting - Bringing New Baby Home to Toddler with Pat Rees

Tuesday, 20 February 2007


Author Pat Rees is here to share her expert advice on bringing a new baby in to the home when your toddler may not be ready to share her home with a little brother or sister just yet.

Introducing a new baby to your toddler
The first two years of a toddler's life have been called the attachment phase of a child's life. Your child learns that if he communicates his needs to his parents, they will take care of him- i.e. feed, change and hug him. But there comes a time in a toddler's life when this undivided attention becomes challenged by their mum becoming pregnant again. Suddenly your toddler will need to learn that they might have to share the love of their parents with another. They'll need to learn the magic word "wait". You cannot predict how your toddler will act he first time he sees his newborn brother or sister. You can, however, prepare and try to make the first meeting and whole transition easier.

When there is a new arrival on the way, your toddler may fell unloved and jealous. It's only natural, but the reaction also depends on how parents handle the situation. Mothers getting pregnant for the first time may feel that they are in a way deserting their first child, or may feel they will deprive the first child in some way. They fear diluting the intense love they feel for their first born. However, they shouldn't. Teaching your first child a bit of independence and to share the love is all a part of parenting.

The following are some simple ways of preventing and coping with jealousy

When should preparation begin?
Some parents feel like to wait until the bump is obvious, before telling children about the new baby on the way. However you will find that children forget the baby's inside the womb for long stretches so there is no harm in telling them early. Prepare your child well for the new arrival. When a toddler is the only child, it is best to begin preparing them well in advance for their new role as big brother or sister. Ease them into the transition so they won't suddenly feel that their position in the family has been taken. Let them share in your pregnancy and appreciate the growing baby inside. Encourage as much independence as early as possible before the baby is born; it is good for your children and will help you out too. There may be times when you will be busy with the baby later on.

What ways can I let my toddler share my pregnancy?
Let them feel the baby kicking. Encourage them to talk to the baby. Toward the end of the pregnancy listen to music together: your toddler, the baby (inside mum), mum and dad. Where possible take your child along to prenatal checkups with you so he can hear baby's heartbeat and watch the ultrasound pictures.

How can I make my toddler understand what is happening?
Explain that the baby in your tummy is their brother or sister.
Use photos of your toddler as a newborn to explain what the new baby will be like and how fragile it would be.
Explain all that is in store, that you will have to go into hospital for a few days that they can come and visit and see their new sister and brother and then you'll come home with the baby. Once they have a good grasp of al that is going to happen you may be surprised at how remarkably well they adapt.

What can I do in the days leading up to the birth of my new baby?
Try to keep your family routine going along smoothly even though you may be waiting to go into labour or into hospital. Continuing with routine life will give a feeling of security.

What's the best way should a toddler be introduced to their new brother or sister?
A great idea is to buy the toddler a small gift "from their new brother or sister". When dad brings your toddler into the hospital, the gift can be in the cot with the baby. If you do this, they will probably be very impressed by the new baby although you should prepare yourself for questions such as "how did she that get that out of your tummy?" and "did you buy this, come on?"

What tips can you offer to make the transition at home easier?
. Encourage your toddler to be mother and baby's helper. Let them hold, sing and talk to the baby. Do show your appreciation for all of their help. Don't overdo the 'little helper' bit as they can get fed up with it too.
. Put a stool near to the changing area so they can watch the changing routines.
. Fathers are of tremendous value at this time. Make sure they do plenty of the childcare routines, like bathing - even start a new fun hobby you can all do together.

What can I do when jealousy does arise?
Just be firm. You may need to reiterate that the baby is a part of the family and is staying. A lot of toddlers will ask their parents to send the baby back. But like everything in life, it takes time to get use to the change. Keep a watchful eye on your baby and toddler. Some toddlers will react with anger - slapping or hitting the new baby. Don't overreact - but firmly explain that he is hurting the baby and that behavior is not acceptable. To the toddler the world once revolved around them - now they have to share their world with this tiny creature that takes mommy's attention away. Try to understand from the toddler's point of view that they are simply defending their position and be patient with them.

Should I change my toddler's routine at all?
No. Keep to the same meal times, bedtime story and so on.

How can you make a toddler more tolerant of his new sibling's screaming?
Try to pick out some photographs of your toddler when they were crying or being bold- these will come in handy later to say, 'yes, you cried a lot too'

Do remember that however careful, thoughtful, and loving you are, some jealousy is bound to happen, so when they say things like "you can take baby back now, I don't like it anymore" or give darling sister a hug that nearly makes her blue, or even if your usually wonderful child gives her sister a blow that would put a professional boxer to shame, don't be surprised. It happens to the best of children and families at times. With lots of love and support from caring parents this little green eyed monster wil turn back to your little darling once more.

Case study
phone call with Kim Doran

Kim is mum to Riain (19 months) and Simm (8 weeks)

So Kim, what preparations did you make while pregnant?
Kim's son Riain was still quite young so she couldn't really explain much to him. She could however start to make preparations to make life easier.
. A few months before Simm arrived they moved Riain out of the nursery and settled him into his own room so that he wouldn't think the new baby was taking his room.
. Riain still wasn't a great sleeper up until a few months ago. Until that point Kim would bring him into the bed with her when he woke up but 4/5 weeks before Simm was born they knocked it on the head and stopped bringing him into the bed and within a couple of weeks he was sleeping better.
. Before the new baby came he was in a perfect routine so now when Simm wakes up they don't have to deal with two screamers!

How did Riain react when Simm was born?
Because Kim had been heavy toward the end, she wasn't able to bath or care for Riain. His dad had to take over those duties. When Simm was born, Riain became very clingy so she had to be careful to look after his needs as much as possible to prevent jealousy.

What are your tips on managing the jealousy?
. When Kim is breastfeeding she barricades herself into a room while feeding with the two babies to make it mangeable. This means Riain can't go wild and Kim doesn't have to give out to him.
. In the evening Kim and her husband divide their time with the boys. They take turns to spend time with each of them.