When you brought home your first baby, you had all the time in the world to get adjusted to your new life together. Compare that to bringing home your second baby: chaos and routine ruckus abounds as you juggle a toddler and a new baby at the same time. While you're totally amazed with the new addition, your older child might not be feeling the love. That's why it's important to make the transition from single-childhood to older-siblingdom slowly and in small steps to avoid new baby jealousy.
Some of the reactions your toddler might experience when a new baby comes on the scene include:
- Aggression toward the baby.
- Regressive behavior, such as acting like a baby, sucking his thumb, crying or waking in the night.
- Refusal to spend time with or interact with baby.
- Withdrawal from family members or even parents.
- Sudden separation anxiety.
If you've noticed that your toddler is acting negatively toward the new baby, it's time to step in. By introducing the concept of another baby to your older child slowly, you give him plenty of time to adapt the sights, sounds and smells that come with baby number two.
- Expect the emotions. Nearly all children suffer from new baby jealousy—it's just shown in different ways. While one kid might try to hurt the new baby, another child could revert back into baby-like behavior. By expecting some backlash, you'll be ready to deal with the issues. Just think about how confused you'd be if you'd spent your entire life as the center of attention and were suddenly forced to share the spotlight!
- Make changes ahead of time. One common mistake that parents make is waiting until baby makes four to make changes in the home. If you plan on moving your toddler to a new bed or room, do so several months before your new baby makes her arrival. Waiting until your baby is in the home to make changes confuses and upsets your toddler, who likes to stick to a routine and the familiar. By making changes in your sixth month of pregnancy, your give your toddler plenty of time to adapt before the new baby appears.
- Do some prep work. Meeting the baby in the hospital after delivery shouldn't be the first time your older child hears about the little bundle of joy. Spend the months leading up to your new baby's birth preparing your child for the changes that might occur. Talk about the baby and help your child bond by encouraging him to talk to your growing belly and learn about the gestation period. Just make sure that you make the changes and development easy for your child to understand—such as, "Your new baby sister is the size of an apple now. She's growing so big!"
- Remain in control. Dr. Fran Walfish, a leading child, teen, parent, and family psychotherapist, notes that one of the most common mistakes moms make is passing on the care of a toddler to the other parent when a new baby arrives. "Your toddler metaphorically loses Mommy when he must now share you with baby," notes Walfish. "Don't make the mistake... by having him lose you in reality [in] passing him over to Daddy." Make time for your toddler and remain in control of the regular day-to-day routine of eating, dressing and bathing.
- Verbalize feelings. Your toddler is probably too young to understand how he feels about the new baby or why he's upset. By giving your toddler the words to tackle his emotions, he better understands why he feels the way he does toward his new sibling. For instance, instead of noting that your child is mad, talk about why he's mad. He probably feels left out or thinks you don't have the time to spend with him that you used to. If your toddler doesn't speak, "You can sit with your toddler with large paper and crayons and draw stick figures," suggests Walfish.
While you definitely want your two children to bond, you can't force your older child to become more used to a new baby in the house. You'll find that over time, your toddler adapts to the changes that come with a new baby and will soon even prove to be a loving and protective older sibling—at least, until the time for sibling rivalry, tattling and sharing becomes an issue.