Preparing toddlers for newborns
Expecting a new baby in the household it is typically an exciting time with much attention paid to this up coming event. Often owing to the uncertainty of when baby will arrive there is a need to pack and have arrangements in place for the care of the other child(ren). A place for the baby to sleep, baby clothes, changing and bathing equipment, car seats and a pram or buggy need to be ready for use. This involves some organisation and can be an uncertain time for the older child(ren) in the family if they are not sure of what to expect. Sometimes siblings have fears of being displaced, and no longer being the child that parents lavish all their attention on.
Sometimes changes such as shifting bedrooms or going from a cot to a bed or a focus on toilet training are goals parent wish to achieve with the older child(ren) and have ticked off before baby arrives. This again may be somewhat unsettling and where possible this ought to be done well before the baby is due to arrive.
Many children adjust well to the arrival of a new baby in the household, however a sizeable number experience some jealousy and/or aggression towards the new born. Some regress to babyish behaviours such as thumb sucking, using baby talk, and/or wanting to wear a nappy. Some demand lots of attention particularly when you're spending time with the baby and can be moody, disobedient or clingy. Occasionally, a sibling may be hurtful and aggressive towards the baby which can be very distressing for parents and baby alike.
Through preparing your child for the arrival of a new baby you assist them to make a healthy adjustment to this newest member of the family. Talk to them about what will be happening, where they will be and who will look after them, and answer any questions with an age appropriate response (this means a response that will satisfies their question and has been explained using terms they know). Talk through what it was like when they were a baby, and bring out any photos. You may also visit your local library and pick up books about bringing home a new baby. Point out and talk about other families with babies you both know. Explain to them that the baby will sleep lots, feed often, can't see too well initially and will cry often. Allow your child to help in any preparations (e.g. picking out some baby books for the nursery, stacking nappies, making a present, picture or card for the baby.
Once your baby arrives allow your older child to interact with the baby when they are ready. They may be very excited or conversely take a little time to warm to baby. Involve your child in the care of their baby brother or sister by letting them fetch you a cloth, nappy, or toy, or to share their favourite book, song or nursery rhyme with the baby. Be available for hugs, kisses and undivided time with your older child as this communicates to them your continued availability and love for them.
Remember to use your baby's name when talking about them to you older child so they perceive the baby as a special, unique person and not an inanimate object. During breast/bottle feeding, set yourself up with some children's books and where possible, read to your older child whilst feeding your baby.
Attempt to keep as many of your older child's routine as possible, such as bedtimes, meal times, kindergarten attendance etc.
When a child is hurtful or aggressive a parent needs to act quickly and let the child know firmly that this is unacceptable behaviour. If you child is displaying regressive behaviours i.e. babyish behaviour, look for opportunities to praise and encourage them when they behave age appropriately, and simply ignore their "babyish" behaviours. If the regressive behaviour is in toileting or eating, deal with any related accidents or messes in a matter of fact way.
If your child says hurtful things about their new brother or sister it is useful to respond in a constructive way. This would involve acknowledging their feelings and being understanding of them (e.g. "I can see that you are angry with baby Katie, it is hard to hear your story tape when she is crying so loudly, I feel like that too sometimes at night when I'm trying to sleep and Katie won't stop crying").
Lastly but importantly remember to encourage and praise any loving, helpful behaviours they have towards the baby from your older child.
By Pauline Ogilvy, Registered Psychologist
This information was based on Triple P Infant Tip Sheet. For more information contact the Triple P office.