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Q: My toddler wants to pick up his new baby sister. Is this safe?
A: It is positive to see that your toddler wants to help with the new baby, to touch and cuddle her. As he’s seen you pick her up, he will almost certainly want to copy you, and may even try to carry her around. This is not safe at all: His strength and balance are not well-developed enough to hold her safely or to support her head as well as she needs. One alternative is to have your toddler put his arms around the baby while you have her fully supported on your lap. This way he gets to feel close to his sister while you keep her held safely.

Your toddler should not be left alone with the new baby for even the shortest period, since he does not have the understanding to treat her safely. This may seem overcautious, especially if you just want to leave the room to get a cup of water or answer the phone, but take your toddler with you every time. It only takes a second for a child full of initiative and curiosity to experiment with whether he can pick up his sister.

Q: Our new baby is very sick. How can we tell our toddler without worrying him too much?
A: At such an anxious time, it can be hard to know how much or little to share with your toddler. There is no doubt he will know something is wrong and be wondering about it. He may even fear that the baby is sick because he had an unkind thought, such as, “I wish she wasn’t born.” This sort of worry is natural at his age; his egocentric view of the world means he thinks he has this sort of power. It is up to you to let him know your baby is ill but that it’s not because of anything he did or said. He may ask whether the baby will die. This might be very difficult to handle because of your own fears and distress. Be truthful in your answer: If this is a possibility then say so, but stress that right now, everyone is working hard to make your baby feel better. By being honest with your toddler, you allow him to be a part of the process of caring for his sister.

Explain that lots of people, such as doctors and nurses, will be helping the family and that there will be trips to the hospital and clinic to check the baby. Minimize the impact of medical appointments on your toddler by bringing along plenty to keep him busy. Having a puzzle and coloring books, or a favorite book to read, gives him some choices while he waits. Enlist friends and relatives to come with you to entertain your son or ask them to care for him at home. This allows you to concentrate fully on the doctor’s advice during your appointments.

Q: Why has our toddler reverted to babyish behavior since the birth of our new baby?
A: It is common for the arrival of a new baby to coincide with a setback in your toddler’s progress, such as more toileting accidents, demands for a diaper or bottle even though these have been phased out, and more clingy behavior.

One explanation for more baby-like behavior is that your toddler is trying to get the same priority treatment from you as his new sibling. He sees the baby get immediate attention when she’s thirsty or needs to be changed, and copies to see if you’ll come to him as quickly. This is not a conscious plan but is driven by his deep need for your attention.

It’s likely, however, that the reason is more complex, since regression is a reaction to stress. He’s been the center of attention in your family, essentially the king of the castle, demanding and receiving your attention whenever he asks for it. All of a sudden he’s been “dethroned”—pushed out of this position, no longer first for your attention, but having to wait until the baby’s needs have been met before he is seen to. This loss of his place as the youngest or only child in the family and of having your sole attention may be expressed through more dependent behavior.

Be reassured that this is a phase in his adjustment to family change and usually goes away as life settles down into a routine. While babyish behavior may be exasperating, chiding him for it isn’t helpful. He’ll benefit from reassurance in the form of extra cuddles and comforting hugs but try to avoid putting him back into diapers or returning his pacifier, because you’ll have to work hard to phase them out again.

Q: Should I accept offers from family to look after my toddler for a few days to give me some time with my new baby?
A: This sort of offer is very tempting, especially at times when your toddler is misbehaving or demanding and you’re lacking in sleep. However, consider what type of message this sends to your older child. It may reinforce his belief that he’s being pushed out of the family by the new baby or that he’s no longer wanted. Being away from you for long periods, such as a whole day or overnight, is a significant separation for your toddler and likely to result in withdrawn or angry behavior or more clinginess when he gets back. An alternative to long breaks might be to accept offers to care for him more frequently but for shorter periods, such as an hour or two. He can have an exciting time with family friends or relatives, but the time apart won’t be so long that he feels anxious and is unsettled on his return. Do make the most of this time by resting yourself.

NOTE

Your toddler has lost his privileged position as your only child—it’s no wonder he’s out of sorts

Here comes baby Preparing for a new arrival

A new baby brings great pleasure and real upheaval—not only for parents but for older children, too. Your toddler’s world will change. He’ll need to share your attention and may have to wait while the new baby is seen to first. Explaining to him that he’ll be sharing his home, and your time and attention with another child can be a challenge which needs thoughtful and sensitive handling.

Your child’s feelings

Developmentally, your young child will find it very difficult to see things from someone else’s perspective. As far as he is concerned, he is the very center of the universe, and he may not understand why you would want another child. He may even be concerned that you are going to replace him with your new baby! If your toddler is feeling anxious, you may find that he is more clingy and upset, or has more temper tantrums than usual. Continue to manage his behavior as before: It is important to maintain consistency as this will be reassuring for him.

Pregnancy and delivery

Your child will have a very limited understanding of time, so think carefully about when you are going to tell him that you are having another baby. Too early and you will be answering questions for a very long time; too late and your child will pick up on the fact that something is different and may feel left out and insecure. Linking the birth to a significant event around the time, such as a birthday, can help your child to understand when their sibling will be arriving. Taking your child to prenatal appointments so he can listen to the baby’s heartbeat, allowing him to stroke and talk to your belly, and feeling the baby kick will make him feel included, making the pregnancy more real to him. Many children’s books tell the tale of a new baby coming into the family. Reading these stories together will help his understanding and prompt questions about how life is going to be.

If you are having a hospital birth, it can be helpful to explain a little about what will happen as children tend to associate the hospital with sickness, and may worry about you.

Dealing with changes at home

Include your child in preparing your home so he does not feel the baby is pushing him out. For example, he could help with choosing equipment, clothing, and room colors. If you are going to allow your child to help out in this way, make sure that you give him a limited range of options to choose from.

Your child may be excited at the prospect of having someone new to play with and may not understand that, initially, his sibling will be unable to run around and have fun with him, and will actually be a rather noisy addition to the household. Show him photos and videos of himself at that age to help him to be more realistic in his expectations.

What’s in there?

Involve your child in your new baby’s life by allowing him to talk to your belly.

Jealous toddler A common reaction to a new birth

Your toddler has to cope with a big change—the entrance of a rival for your affection. Not all toddlers are jealous of their new sibling, and most react positively, at least in the early days. At first your toddler is likely to be fascinated by the baby, want to touch and stare at her, be eager to choose a gift, and proudly introduce “his” baby to everyone who visits.

Jealousy emerges

For some toddlers, this initial goodwill turns to jealousy as the excitement of birth gives way to everyday routine, and he realizes he gets less of your attention and that his sister isn’t yet the playmate he wanted. Many toddlers think the baby is a temporary visitor and, once she leaves, everything will go back to normal. Discovering the change is permanent can trigger his negative reaction. Having been first in line for your time, now he’s often at the end, as the baby’s cries are attended to first. It’s no wonder he’s a little out of sorts.

You may find your toddler shows only a mild reaction, perhaps regressing to wanting his pacifier, increasing his thumb sucking, having worse separation anxiety, or wanting to be by your side rather than play independently. This can be remedied by plenty of loving reassurance that he’s still important to you. It is essential that he still have one-on-one time with you every day, even though this can be difficult to achieve. A few minutes of games on the carpet when the baby is in her bouncy-seat and some quiet cuddle time before bed, perhaps sharing a story just like you used to, will reassure him that your feelings for him haven’t changed. Where possible, keep to the same outings and activities as before. This reassures him that he’s not going to miss out on playgroup or visiting friends because of the new arrival. He’ll feel more settled when some things in his life stay the same.

A strong reaction?

A small number of toddlers react strongly to the new arrival and show their anger at being displaced through tantrums, trying to hurt the baby, and saying things like “I wish the baby was dead” or “I hate the baby.” These reactions can be very distressing as you naturally want him to love his sibling, and you may be shocked at the strength of his emotions. Be reassured that his harsh words are “in the moment” expressions of anger, and he may well be loving toward the baby within minutes of an outburst. No matter whether your toddler is delighted or unhappy about the new arrival, he should not be left alone with the baby. Close supervision is especially important if he is angry or jealous, because he’s not able to judge how dangerous it could be if he hit or pushed the baby or covered her face, and he may cause her serious harm. When it comes to his angry words, avoid lecturing him or showing how upset you are. It is preferable if you acknowledge his emotion and leave it at that, for example saying, “You seem angry with the baby” or “I can tell you’re not happy with the baby right now.” This is an important sign to him that you still notice and recognize his feelings.

His jealousy can be toned down if you give him the role of your assistant. Give him a doll to care for so he can copy you as you bathe and tend to the baby. Role playing the behavior of adults is a favorite activity for young children and allows him to express his feelings through play rather than directly at his sibling. Work out a plan for times when you have to give the baby lots of attention and can’t respond easily to demands from your toddler. If you set up your older child with a snack or game it can give you those precious few minutes to settle or feed the baby, and keep your toddler satisfied too.

Mommy’s little helper

Passing the diaper or fetching a towel or bottle can make your older child feel useful and important, reducing her jealousy.

All together now

Take the time to play with your toddler when the new baby is present, but not in need of your direct attention.

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