Jo Frost – how to cope with a toddler and a new baby

You thought one baby was challenging... TV’s Supernanny explains ways to make this big change easier for all of you

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The first few weeks with two or more children can be a testing time for families as you all get used to a very different situation. Right up until the birth of your second child, your first-born will always be ‘your baby’ – even if she’s 3 or 4!

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A common problem for mums with new babies is that they suddenly see their older child as more self-sufficient and grown-up than she is, because it becomes clear to them who the real baby is now. This can mean that you expect her to be able to do things she can’t. If you’ve never taught your child to tie her shoelaces or put her coat on herself, she won’t be able to do it overnight, so it’s important to ease into this.

Wherever possible, stick to the routine you had in place before your second baby came along. For example, if your daughter has ballet classes, make sure she still gets to go. It’s important that your toddler doesn’t feel she’s missing out because of the new baby.

Baby makes three

Include your little one at every given opportunity. If you’re bathing your new baby, let your toddler watch and talk to her all the way through about what you’re doing. Have a giggle with her at how small the baby’s feet are, then say, ‘And look at your big feet! Aren’t the baby’s ones small compared to yours!’

Let your toddler sprinkle water on the baby with a sponge so she feels involved. Ask her to pass you a clean nappy when you’re changing the baby – it’ll help her feel responsible and valued. Or let her stroke the baby’s back when you’re gently massaging her. The tiniest things mean a lot to toddlers and help them feel secure.

Bonds of love…

Give your toddler lots of time with the baby –it’s great for bonding. Ask her to sing nursery rhymes to the baby, or sit her on the sofa propped up with soft cushions and show her how to hold the baby and gently stroke him – supervised by mum, of course! If you keep the baby to yourself like some precious prize, it’ll only lead to deeper resentment from your older child. When the baby cries, explain to your toddler what could be the matter, so they start to understand little human beings a bit better. Say, ’Oh-oh! Time for dinner! And it’ll be time for your dinner soon, won’t it?’

Every now and then, have some one-to-one time with your toddler. Snuggle up with a book or do a puzzle with her. She’ll love having all your attention, just like old times.

Praise or punish?

Now is the time to lavish attention on your toddler through lots of praise and cuddles. Rather than telling her how lucky she is to have a new baby brother (which everyone else is bound to do), tell her how lucky her little brother is to have such a fabulous big sister. Accept that your child will probably have a few tantrums –she’s experiencing a whole range of new emotions and has no other way of venting them other than to throw a wobbly.

Be sympathetic but don’t be scared to discipline her if it gets too much. Remember, you don’t need to apologise to a 3-year-old for having a new baby, even though it can feel like it sometimes! Understand how she’s feeling but don’t pander to it; that’ll just create more tantrums which have nothing to do with the baby. To a degree, you should adopt the attitude of ‘she’s just going to have to get used to it’ because let’s face it, she is!

When all’s said and done, just go with it. Enjoy the highs and keep the lows in perspective. Just because your toddler might want to ‘send the baby back now’ (or indeed squash him to within an inch of his life) doesn’t mean they’ll be lifelong enemies! Accept offers of help, don’t try to be a superhero, and keep that sense of humour about you at all times. Good luck!

Look who’s here!

It’s a great idea to create a real sense of fun and excitement about the birth of a new sibling. Your toddler will feed off your attitude – how else do they know about the magic of Christmas other than through you talking about it and getting excited? – so make a fuss.

Blow up balloons for the new baby’s homecoming, and let your toddler decorate the house with home-made banners. She’ll love doing it and it’s a great way to make her feel a real part of the experience. Keep telling her how lucky her little brother is to have such a clever big sister.

A time-old sweetener that never fails is for your new arrival to ‘bring a present’ for your toddler with him. So when she comes to see you in hospital or meet her new sibling for the first time, give her a toy all wrapped up and say, ‘Look what your brother got you! He must love you so much!’ Flattery might not get you everywhere but this is definitely one occasion when it’s worth a shot!

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