It’s very common for second time parents to feel more relaxed with the prospect of having another baby. You’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt! However, one of the common concerns I hear is around how can you make the transition smooth for your mini-me? You have a toddler that is used to being the only child in the house and you’re wondering what you can do to prepare them for the arrival of a baby.
Before baby: prep work
Manage your expectations – be aware of how this might look, what the likely response will be from a toddler and be aware that this is completely normal! Their behaviour is likely to shift a little. More tantrums and big emotions are to be expected. If you acknowledge this and accept it, you are less likely to be impatient with your toddler, and critical of yourself and your parenting capacity.
Preparing for baby is all about discussions with your toddler or young child in a way that is developmentally appropriate. Prepare them for what is going to happen in a way that is open, honest and direct
Explain that you will be going to hospital
Who is going to look after them while you’re in hospital?
Discuss that you’ll be coming home with a baby and what this may mean in terms of mum and dad now caring for another child
Talk to them about what babies are like – where are they going to sleep, how they will be fed, what needs to be done so they are taken care of
Explain that some routines may change – maybe Dad is going to start doing bedtime now, maybe a grandparent will be taking them to their activities or helping with day care drop off
The more information they are given, the more involved they will feel, and they are less likely to feel like the rug is being pulled from under them.
What new patterns can be implemented before baby arrives? Transitions are more easily managed for young children when it is a softer landing. Too much change at once can be really difficult. So if Mum usually does bedtime, but Dad is going to be chipping in a little more once baby is here, can Dad start doing bedtime before baby arrives? If other care givers are going to be involved once baby arrives, can they be integrated into routines now, before the baby is born? This helps our children understand that they can receive love and care from other adults.
Books and role play can be a really great way for children to learn. Children learn through play. Visit your local library and see what books they have that cover these topics. Start reading them regularly with your toddler. Role play what is going to happen with their toys. Having conversations through toys is a great way for children to learn and to express back to you what is going on for them inside.
Once baby is here
Again, this is a time to manage your expectations – of yourself, your baby and your toddler. You cannot be all things to all people all of the time! Your baby is probably going to want to be held lots and feed often. Your toddler won’t become an independent little human overnight. While we can understand these concepts in the abstract, it can be hard to hold onto it in the moment. So take a mindful moment. Take a deep breath. Ask yourself if you’re engaging in kind self-talk. Are the expectations you’re having of everyone realistic and fair?
Expect that your toddler may “regress”. I really don’t like using that word because it has all kinds of negative connotations, and almost makes it sound pathological. But it is completely normal! We don’t grow and develop in a linear fashion, always improving. Even as adults we have set backs. We need to extend this understanding and expectation of the little people in our life.
Have a special present for the baby to give to your toddler for their first meeting. This can make it extra special!
Language counts – instead of “I can’t play with you because I’m feeding the baby”; reframe it as “Mummy is busy right now, but will come and play with you as soon as she can. What would you like to do together”? We want to avoid inadvertently making the baby “the fall guy”.
Make sure you carve out special time with your toddler – they are still young and have a need for one-on-one time where you are really present and being with. This may mean prioritising and letting go of some things, or asking for help from your partner, grandparents and friends so that you have some capacity for this.
Have a special box that can be used for feeding times. Think of activities that you can do with your toddler while you’re feeding your bub and keep it just for those times – puzzles, books, games, colouring/activity books – things that you can easily engage in with your toddler while still feeding. This makes your toddler a part of feed times and takes the pressure of you to troubleshoot and entertain while feeding.
Talk to your children. Normalise their experiences. Validate their feelings. There is a lot of power in saying “I know you’re really upset because Mummy can’t come and play with you right now. I love playing with you too”. Our kids need to know that it is ok to have feelings and emotions, and need the space to express it to us. This takes a lot of self-compassion and inner work so that you have the capacity to parent like this in the moment. As a general rule, I work off the premise that the emotion is ok but the behaviour is sometimes not ok! So if they are hitting the baby for example, you can acknowledge their feelings and validate them as expected, however, something along the lines of “I can’t let you hit the baby” is an important boundary to hold for your toddler.
Having another baby and want more support?
Julia D’Orazio is an Accredited Social Worker, Possums NDC Practitioner, Postpartum Doula and Motherhood Studies Practitioner.