Announcing to family and friends that you’re expecting once again will always bring around greetings and wishes of love and enthusiasm! But sharing that bit of news with your toddler? It might just shake up their world and have them meet with a bottle-load of confusion as they won't fully comprehend how another version of them is taking up residence in your tummy.
While it’s a big adjustment for you and can add some extra stress on the dynamics at home, prominent pediatrician of New York’s Gramercy Pediatrics, Dr. Dyan Hes shares a few ways parents can help their toddler adjust to a new baby for a more smoother transition.
“We try to explain that there will be a new baby in the house, [but] this is a very abstract concept to a toddler,” she says.
Introduce them early
It’s important to keep a visual dialogue open about the new sibling well before birth. In a study from Indiana University, researchers suggest toddlers are visual learners who understand situations and people more efficiently through sensory-motor interactions. This basically means for your toddler, whatever is out-of-sight, is out-of-mind.
As a parent, make sure you involve your toddler every step of the way. Introduce them early on and well into your pregnancy to help them gain an understanding of their baby sibling. Depict them as a real person by showing pictures of the baby in the uterus, let them hear their heartbeat and touch your belly for a better understanding of this new reality.
Formulate an effective dialogue and behavior
Often times our toddlers can become jealous or show a great indifference to a baby once born. But as Hes shares, parents must utilize effective dialogue and behavior in order to help their toddler understand the family’s new relationship with the baby. By setting aside time for mom to be with older siblings, Hes reveals mothers should explain to older siblings that she has to take care of the new baby just like she took care of them when they were little.
“Parents should include older siblings in newborn care, like helping with bath time, changing the diaper, patting the baby’s feet — not head — reading books to the baby, and any other kind of creative idea to be inclusive,” she says.
Give your toddler importance
It’s important when the new baby arrives to continue making your toddler feel important and loved. Even though they are an older sibling, they’re certainly not old enough and will depend on your attention. Boost their ego by communicating your pride in them when they tend to the baby with dialogue like, “You do a great job with her!” or “You’re the only one to makes him laugh that way.”
A study from the Early Childhood Research and Practice suggests this kind of conversation will encourage and inspire their motivations when it comes to relating to the baby, and strengthen their relationship.
Encourage friendships outside home
There’s nothing more lovely than having a baby enter the world with a forever best friend already there for them. Friendship is an important factor when it comes to helping your toddler adjust to the new baby. As Hes points out, play dates with others is an effective method in having them adjust to the newborn as routine factors aid greatly to their growing sociability and comfort.
“If they feel that their normal routine such as school, daycare and play dates are still present, they will feel less scared of the transitional period of a newborn,” she says.
Have them help out
If you’re still pregnant, let your toddler help out in ways that prove their responsibility to the baby. Before the birth, let them help you shop for the baby or decorate their room. When born, ask your toddler for help with simple tasks like reading aloud, rocking them gently, or even singing a lullaby with you. On the contrary, if they don’t want to help out, don’t force them as it can be counterproductive and create unresponsiveness. Instead, give it time.
Nevertheless, Hes says having a sibling for the most part is super fun and exciting for everyone involved.
“We [must] focus on the positive aspect of being a big brother or sister,” she says. “We encourage siblings to be the baby’s ‘teacher’ and role model.”
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