You’ve got a toddler who’s used to having you all to herself, so the arrival of another little person in the family is never going to be easy for her. Think how you’d feel if suddenly you had to share your bathroom/TV/dinner table with a complete stranger and that might help you go some way towards understanding what it’s like.
But there is a way to soften the blow. Make sure your toddler is included every step of the way, introduce the idea of a new baby gradually, at key stages before and just after his or her arrival, and you’ll enjoy a smooth transition.
How do you announce the news to your toddler?
Announcing your news
When you find out you’re expecting another baby, wait to share the news with your toddler until after your 12-week scan, so you can check everything’s OK first. “Do it calmly , with little fuss,” says Fi Star-Stone, toddler expert and founder of Childcare is Fun (www.childcareisfun.co.uk).
“A simple ‘Mummy’s going to have a baby and you’re going to be a big brother or sister,’ is enough, then you can get down to the specifics with a story that will help your toddler understand what’s going to happen,” adds Fi.
Too much excitement in the early stages will be confusing for your toddler because as far as she’s concerned there’s no new baby yet, so she’ll wonder what all the fuss is about.
“Most toddlers won’t understand the concept of time either, especially a period as long as 40 weeks, but if you can, tell her the baby will come after her birthday or after Santa comes, as this will help,” says Fi.
Should your bring your toddler to the scan?
At the scan
Will bringing your toddler to the scan help the idea of a new baby go down better? “It really depends on her age,” says Fi. “A younger toddler probably won’t understand it and because the picture on the monitor won’t really look like a baby to her, she may find it a bit frightening. An older toddler will be able to see the detail of the baby more clearly and may appreciate having the scan picture in a frame in her bedroom.”
Clara Henson, 33, from Staffordshire, mum to Rory, 3, advises to check children are allowed to come along. “I never thought to find out in advance, so when I turned up for my scan and the sonographer told me Rory couldn’t come in, he had to wait outside with my mum,” she says. “But it’s not the same everywhere as my friend didn’t have a problem taking her little girl in with her.”
Get your toddler involved…
Preparing the nursery
Let your toddler be involved with getting the baby’s bedroom ready as it will help make the new arrival seem more real. “Even if your toddler picks out something hideous that doesn’t match the rest of the décor, let her have one thing. This will make her feel included,” says Fi. .
Jamie Spears, 33, from Kent, mum to Ben, 4, let him choose the lampshade for the new nursery when she was pregnant with Katy, now 3 months. “Ben was really excited to be allowed to look at all the lampshades like a grown-up,” she says. “And he was so proud when we showed him his purchase in his new sister’s bedroom. I guess it gave them a kind of connection.”
If the new baby is going to need the cot, switch your toddler to a bed a few months before the baby arrives. “This will avoid her feeling pushed out by the new baby as it won’t seem like the baby is taking things away from her,” says Fi.
What should you explain to your toddler?
Close to your due date
Nicolette Galliers, 37, from London, mum to Bon, 5, and Catalina, 2, found showing Bon the 4D scan of his sister before she was born helped prepare him for her arrival, as it made her seem more real. “He kept asking to watch the DVD and he must have seen it 10 times before the birth,” she says.
“It’s really easy to fall into the trap of telling your toddler that the baby will be a new playmate,” says Fi. “But try and avoid this as a toddler will expect it straightaway, and a new baby won’t be able to play for many months, which could lead to disappointment.”
What should you do before the birth?
Before the birth
“If you’ve got friends with babies, now’s a good time to go and visit them together so that your toddler can see what to expect,” says Fi. “It’s also good for her to see you holding another baby so she can get used to sharing you.”
Make sure she knows what will happen to her when you go into labour, too, so she doesn’t get a horrible shock when she’s shipped off to granny’s house in the middle of the night.
Visiting the new baby…
At the first visit
Let your toddler pick out a present for the new baby to bring to the hospital. “A gift from baby to toddler works well too,” says Fi. “A doll is a good choice as it means when you’re bathing the new baby or changing her nappy, she’ll be able to do the same with her doll.”
Nicola Spiteri, 34, from Cardiff, mum to Jacob, 4, and Theo, 9 months, found pressies worked as a new baby sweetener. “As Jacob first met Theo on Christmas Eve, the baby bought him a Christmas present – we chose something Jacob really wanted from his list to Santa,” she says. “Jacob was of course immediately impressed and he hasn’t stopped telling Theo how much he loves him, and kisses him at least 30 times a day!”
What happens when you bring the new baby home…
When you’re home
It’s normal for your toddler to have tears and tantrums, especially if the new baby is getting most of your attention. Including your toddler as much as possible in caring for the baby is key.
“You can explain that the baby is a bit sad because she’s crying and she needs both of you to come and find out what’s wrong,” says Fi. You’ll probably find that your toddler is keen to help out, even though letting her might mean everything takes a little longer. But try and remain super-positive about all she’s doing.
Charlotte Aston, 34, from Wolverhampton, mum to Daisy May, 3, and Harvey, 10 months, made her daughter feel more involved by letting her pick which side of the double buggy she wanted to sit in. “I think letting her make choices after Harvey was born helped her feel like an important big sister and not pushed out, even though there was a new baby in the house demanding our attention,” she says.