Bringing a new baby into a toddler’s life has been likened to your partner bringing home someone new. The new “family member” moves in, their stuff is everywhere, they take up your partner’s time and attention, and everyone who walks through your front door asks how you’re feeling about them. You’re expected to not only like but love this person and feel excited that they’ve arrived into your home.
Words KAREN MENZIES CAMPBELL
Bringing home your new baby can spark a range of emotions in your toddler, from joy and curiosity to confusion, frustration and jealousy.If you look at the changes from your toddler’s perspective, it makes sense that they need some time to adjust to your new baby’s arrival.
According to Clinical Psychologist (Reg)Emma Cole-Henley, your toddler could show their mixed emotions through a range of behaviour changes. “You might see behavioural outbursts such as tantrums and acting out, or behavioural and emotional regression such as regressing in their toilet training, wanting to be rocked to sleep or demanding attention at your baby’s feeding time,” says Cole-Henley. “They might even ask for the baby to go back to where they came from.”
While your toddler might embrace their role as a big brother or sister, they can also feel confused about the changes to their routine and why you’re not as available as you used to be.
“You might see behavioural outbursts such as tantrums and acting out, or behavioural and emotional regression such as regressing in their toilet training, wanting to be rocked to sleep or demanding attention at your baby’s feeding time.”
“Much like any change, the impact of a new baby on a young child’s life will vary from child to child. Most children may find the change somewhat tricky at first but will adjust fairly quickly without lasting psychological impact. Others may need some extra help and support to adjust to this change.”
At some point, it’s very likely that your toddler will act out in an attempt to get your attention. It can be very stressful as a parent to suddenly need to protect your new baby from the little person you have spent the past few years protecting from every imaginable danger.
Cole-Henley’s advice is to stay calm. “When your child is experiencing big emotions, they need a calming adult presence to help them understand their feelings and help them to calm down.”
“If your toddler shows signs of jealousy through their behavior, avoid blaming, shaming or isolating them. This will only make your toddler feel disconnected and can perpetuate any feelings of resentment they might have towards your baby.”
“When your child is experiencing big emotions, they need a calming adult presence to help them understand their feelings and help them to calm down.”
At a time when you’re not getting much sleep and exhausted from the demands of your baby and toddler, it can be easy to forget that your toddler is adjusting to huge life changes too. Instead of seeing your toddler as misbehaving or acting out, try to reframe their behaviour as not coping at that particular moment and give them extra reassurance.
“Helping your child to deal with their feelings of jealousy means that as your toddler and baby grow, you are more likely to foster a positive siblingrelationship between your children. Sibling rivalry is normal and will likely still occur, but helping the children understand and negotiate their big emotions during the early years can help them to better deal with conflict later on.”
It may be hard to imagine now but in years to come, all the things your toddler is doing now may one day become funny anecdotes around your family dinner table.
How to help your toddler cope
Be patient. It’s all just part of everybody getting used to “the new normal” in your home.
Have some easy activities ready to offer, particularly when you need to feed or bathe your baby. Colouring in, blocks and no-mess water paintings are easy to set up quickly.
Get your toddler involved in caring for your baby. They can help choose outfits, bibs and suitable toys.
Praise them. “Thank you so much for sitting and playing with your blocks while I fed the baby. You have been so patient, well done! Let’s play now.”
Re-read any story books you might have read about having a baby before your baby was born. Now with some actual experience with a baby at home, you can talk about each story in a new way.
Look through your toddler’s baby book or baby album to show them what they were like as a baby and point out how much they have changed since then.
Try to stick to a familiar routine. Young children find routine very comforting, so keep things the same as much as you can, particularly at bedtime.
Let them just be themselves, not always a big sister or big brother. Acknowledge that it’s tough for them and spend time with them doing things not related to your baby.
Get other family members or friends involved to help you spend time one-on-one with your toddler.