When I was pregnant with my second, my OB accidentally spilled the baby beans to my almost-three-year-old. I was lying on the exam table, holding the measuring tape at the top of my oversized belly when it happened. My doctor casually leaned over and asked my son if he was excited about becoming a big brother.
My toddler cycled through all the feels—excitement, confusion, shock—before shooting me a look that let me know it was time to let him in on the secret. While we weren’t necessarily keeping the news from my firstborn, my husband and I weren’t exactly advertising it either. Turns out we had already done a few things that clinical psychologist Maureen Turner agreed were good first steps.
As she explains, “kids thrive on connection and consistency,” and any time a baby enters a family this gets uprooted in parents’ lives. By trying to keep things as consistent as possible and carving out special time for your sibling-to-be, you can help them through this major life change. Here are Maureen’s top tips to prepare your toddler for a new baby.
Don’t attempt any big transitions around the time of baby’s arrival
Maureen suggests not making any major transitions right before or after the baby’s arrival. So if your toddler is taking up prime crib real estate (as ours was), make sure to move them to a different bed well before the baby needs the crib (as we did). It’s also not a great time to start potty training, retire a comfort paci or transition from sippies to big kid cups. Try to maintain a consistent environment and routine as much as possible during this time.
Try to keep routines as consistent as possible
Part of that overall consistency is figuring out what part of your family’s daily routine you can maintain once the baby arrives. For me, it was naptime. Maybe the bath time/storytime/bedtime trifecta is a stalwart in your house. Or maybe it’s gathering for family dinner. Whatever it is, building in predictability is key to helping toddlers with this exciting change, according to Maureen.
Help foster a connection with the new baby
In addition to moving our son into his big kid bed, we also added one of my favorites—The Berenstain Bears: New Baby—to our nighttime reading in anticipation of the baby’s arrival.
Maureen says that fostering connections between soon-to-be sibs and a new baby should be a cornerstone of adding to your fam. Take, for example, reading the Berenstain Bears book. Talking with my son about how he would soon be a big brother and exploring his questions and thoughts was a great way for him to connect with his soon-to-arrive sister and me. Signing kids up for a siblings class, having them make something special for the baby, like a painting or a story, or even picking out a special gift to give the baby are all ways that parents can help their older kids connect with the latest addition.
Remember that your toddler may still act out
It’s hard to anticipate all the changes that come with welcoming a baby, but come they will. And when it comes to challenging toddler behavior, you count on that too. Maureen reminds parents to “interpret behavior changes as communication.” Young kids don’t have the emotional vocabulary to express complicated feelings or needs. It’s one of the reasons carving out special time to connect with them daily once the baby arrives is important.
In the end, that unexpected nudge from my OB forced my hand in a good way. While things weren’t warm-knife-through-butter smooth when the baby arrived (but then again what part of parenting is?), we made it to the other side as a family of four… and eventually five.