How to Introduce a New Baby to Your Toddler: A Complete Guide
1 November 2023
Do you have another baby on the way? Whether your next bundle of joy is biological or adopted, a newcomer to the family is always a big event! Read on for our comprehensive guide to ensure the smoothest transition possible for your family 👇
Welcoming a new baby to the family is an exciting and emotional time for any parent. However, it’s important to take careful steps with how you break the big news to the ones it’ll effect the most – the children you already have.
While adults understand the gravity of welcoming a new child, toddlers may struggle to grasp the concept. Rushing the news may lead to children feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, and even jealous.
In this post, we outline how to introduce your toddler to a new baby, as well as providing some handy tips for helping them adjust after the arrival.
How to Introduce the Idea of a Biological Sibling
A little brother or sister is a wonderful addition to any family that will inevitably change the household dynamic. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of when and how to tell your toddler. Experts suggest waiting until at least the end of the first trimester before telling a child there’s a new baby on the way. Once you’ve shared the big news, start preparing them for the actual arrival around 3-4 months before your due date.
While the ‘when’ can be straightforward (especially if you’re showing early), the ‘how’ differs from child to child. Just because your eldest took the news well, doesn’t mean your youngest will be as thrilled.
Likewise, every child is unique, and some struggle to understand abstract concepts. However, there are a few ways to help your toddler prepare:
- Read an age-appropriate book together about welcoming a new baby into the family. This is also best done in the weeks and months leading up to sharing the news so they’re well prepared. Some baby-themed books include:
i) What’s in Your Tummy Mummy? by Sam Lloyd
ii) I’m a Big Sister and I’m a Big Brother by Joanna Cole
iii) Bobo and the New Baby by Rebecca Minhsuan Huang
iv) There’s a House Inside My Mummy by Giles Andreae
- Use animals and their young as a reference point – this is perfect if you have a puppy!
- Reassure them with praise and positive reinforcement.
For biological children, you can also use your baby bump! Once your child feels the baby kicking, they’ll begin to get their head around the concept. Ultrasound photos are perfect to extend this experience.
However, don’t be surprised if they find the idea a bit farfetched. Additionally, try not to take it personally if they laugh or shake their head. Often, they need to actually see the baby in person before they’ll believe you!
How to Introduce the Idea of an Adopted Child
Adoption is a huge life decision that can change many lives for the better. However, introducing an adopted child to your toddler presents new challenges. As you don’t have a baby bump or ultrasound photos, you’ll have to get creative to introduce the new face. This is further complicated by the fact they’ll need to understand that their new brother or sister comes from different parents.
A few tips to prepare your toddler for the incoming adopted child include:
- Reading children’s books on adoption together.
- Encouraging your child to ask questions.
- Being clear that all siblings will be treated and loved the same.
- Being open and honest – avoiding the topic can lead to confusion and anxiety for both you and your child.
Above all, children are more perceptive than you might think. So, if you’re shopping around for cots, loading up on formula, or looking at new baby clothes, they’ll clue in that you’re hiding something. Have a sit down and encourage a family discussion. They’ll likely have questions, so it’s important to be well prepared.
Bringing the Baby Home
When the baby finally arrives, there are some steps you can take to ensure your toddler doesn’t feel too overwhelmed:
- Give your toddler a big hug and lots of positive reinforcement before introducing the baby. This is vital for toddlers who often aren’t able to regulate their emotions.
- If you’re giving your older child a gift, tell them it’s from the baby. This is a great way to build connections between your children early on.
- If you’re having friends or family over for the occasion, encourage them to also bring something for your toddler so they can feel involved in the process.
- Hold the baby together. Start by asking if your toddler if they want to hold the baby, and don’t be surprised if they say no. They may even try to pinch or hit the baby. This is completely normal as toddlers may feel excited or overwhelmed. By holding the baby together, you can support your newborn’s head and take control if your toddler becomes uncomfortable or overwhelmed by the experience.
- Involve your toddler in caring for the new baby. Most toddlers love to help! Ask them if they would like to fetch nappies, pick out new sets of clothes, or even quietly sing to the baby if they’re upset.
- Spend some alone time with your child. If all eyes are on the baby, your toddler may feel left out. Taking some time to play a game or read with your toddler while another family member takes care of the baby can do wonders for your toddler’s self-esteem and mindset.
What to Expect at Home
After the initial excitement and novelty wears off, toddlers may still feel a bit lonely. Despite your best efforts to prepare them for the arrival, it can still come as a shock as you shower the baby with the time, love, and attention they need.
Therefore, some toddlers may regress in the first year after a baby arrives by:
- Crying or shouting
- Becoming (extra) clingy
- Acting out towards parents or the baby
- Refusing naps or struggling to sleep/settle
- Forgetting toilet training
Rest assured, these are normal coping mechanisms for toddlers. At first, they may even ask for the baby to be taken back or wish they never arrived in the first place. While this can be heartbreaking to hear, it’s a common reaction from toddlers.
If you find your toddler struggling to accept the situation, there are a few things you can do:
- Acknowledge their feelings. While toddlers aren’t old enough to fully grasp the situation, they are old enough to feel isolation and jealousy. It’s only natural that they feel like their world has completely changed because it has! So, be sure to validate their feelings. Something as simple as ‘I know you’re feeling upset right now, and that’s okay,’ can do wonders for toddlers.
- Schedule some alone time with just you and your toddler every day. This can be as simple as solving a puzzle or playing their favourite game. Just make sure that it’s something they love.
- Reinforce your unconditional love for all your children. While it may seem like it’s falling on deaf ears, the message will eventually get through to your toddler after enough repetition (and plenty of hugs).
- Be positive. This is perhaps the simplest, and in some ways the most challenging, tip on this list. With a crying baby and an emotional toddler, it can feel like the whole world is caving in. However, by staying as positive and smiling around your toddler, you can lead by example.
After enough love, time, and patience, your toddler will slowly begin to accept the situation. Before you know it, they’ll start to appreciate and love the baby. After all, they are their little brother or sister!
However, if you feel it’s seriously impacting your toddler’s development, be sure to contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible.
Overall, welcoming a new child to the family is an exciting and important period for any family. With careful and deliberate steps, you can ensure the experience is the start of a bright new chapter in your family’s story. Always remember to be open, honest, and be patient with your toddler. It’s almost always a shock at first, but with time and proper integration, your children will be forming lifelong bonds before your very eyes.