Before you tell your child a baby’s on the way
There are lots of positive but unobtrusive ways you can prepare your toddler emotionally for the arrival of a new brother or sister.
*Draw her attention to families where there are more children.
*Point out – in books or everyday life – brothers and sisters playing together and talk positively about the fun of having someone to share things with.
*Invite friends with new babies to your home.
*Read books about toddlers and babies, such as Shirley Hughes’ Lucy and Tom stories.
*Encourage independence skills, such as getting her own shoes or fetching crayons from the toy box. You’ll need her to do things for herself when you’re occupied with the baby.
*Get your child used to playing quietly by herself. It’ll allow you to breastfeed later on without worrying that she’s bored or about to have an accident.
Telling your child – what not to say
How and how much you talk about the new baby can have an important influence on your child’s attitude and future behaviour towards the new arrival.
*Tell your toddler too early. Even six months is an awful long time to wait for a toddler – and you’ll get fed up of the questions starting ‘But when…?’. Leave it until the five or six month stage, when you’re visibly pregnant.
*Talk in too much detail about what your toddler will do with the new baby. You don’t want to commit yourself to something that just doesn’t work in practice.
*Talk too much about the baby or pay undue attention to other people’s babies. If your toddler feels displaced, jealousy could lead to disruptive behaviour when the baby’s born.
*Blind her with science! When she asks how the baby got into your tummy, keep explanations simple.
*Tell her that she’s going to have a playmate. Babies won’t be that for months. Instead, give her a sense of importance by telling her how helpless the baby will be.
Your baby’s birth
If you’re having the baby in hospital, plan what you’re going to do with your toddler well in advance. If her grandparents, other relatives or friends are going to look after her, make sure she spends time with them on her own beforehand. Go out for an evening and let them put her to bed and be there when she wakes in the morning.
*Let her know what your plans are for the birth.
*Let her help pack her overnight bag – with pyjamas, toothbrush, a favourite beaker, CD or tape, book and her cuddly toys – if she’s going to stay with friends or relatives.
*Get her something new to play with so she feels special. A baby doll with accessories and a toy buggy, for example, would also give her a sense of involvement and responsibility but keep her busy when you are too.
*Let her think she can join in on the day. Tell her some hospitals don’t let little children into the baby areas, just in case you don’t feel up to it. Even if it’s a home birth, you’ll need to focus on the labour without worrying about how your toddler’s coping.
If your toddler gets jealous about the new baby
This is inevitable at some point, however well balanced your child is and whatever steps you’ve taken to prepare her. Sharing her toys is already difficult enough, never mind sharing her mum! But try these tips to alleviate the emotional tension.
*Spend one-to-one time with your toddler, chatting or playing, preferably when the baby’s asleep. Even a few minutes will help.
*If you find your toddler regresses and wants to have her nappy changed on the baby’s mat or to be picked up a lot, accommodate her – but also gently remind her that she’s able to do things the baby can’t yet, like pee in the potty.
*Let your toddler help you with babycare. She can fetch a clean nappy or help you put cream on the baby’s bottom.
*Use the baby as an excuse for not doing something. Instead of saying, ‘We can’t,’ say, ‘When I’ve finished feeding the baby’ – use positive answers.
*Get angry if your toddler’s showing signs of jealousy. Try distraction to pre-empt an aggressive outburst, such as a fun trip to the park.
5 tips for introducing your new baby
1. When your toddler first sees you again, make sure the baby isn’t guzzling at your breast and try to avoid breastfeeding in front of her for the first day.
2. Give your toddler a big cuddle and lots of attention.
3. Leave a present from the baby to your toddler in the crib or carrycot.
4. Let your child touch the baby gently as often as she wants.
5. Encourage your child to take any visitors to see the baby – but ensure they pay her attention first.
5 practical steps to help your toddler cope
1. Avoid any other upheavals close to the baby’s birth. For example, if your child’s due to change her childminder or start nursery, do it in advance or leave it until three months after the birth.
2. If dad doesn’t usually spend a lot of time with your toddler, get them both doing things together more, such as bedtime, meals and park visits. Convince your partner the new baby is also a great new bonding opportunity for him and the older sibling.
3. If you’re planning to return to work, don’t drop your childminder. Your toddler will be used to being with her and it’ll ensure she has some continuity in her daily life.
4. If you’re not returning to work and have the money to spare, negotiate a part-time place that will give you some free time and more energy for your toddler.
5. Transfer your toddler into a bed before the birth. She’ll have a chance to get used to her ‘big bed’ before the new arrival needs to move into ‘her’ cot.