Wednesday, February 27, 2013

New Baby Transition Tips for Toddlers

When I hit the part of my second pregnancy where being physically active became difficult and my energy level was almost non-existent, I began to worry about adding a newborn to the mix. My older son had just turned two when my husband and I found out we were going to be adding a new family member to the mix. Interestingly enough, about two months later our calm, quiet little man turned into a loud, talkative, inquisitive limit-tester. Great timing, I know! As the months went on, my fear of the transition from one to two grew.

Liam was picking up on the changes I was going through, and did not like them one bit. He constantly complained that I couldn’t carry him, swing him around, or sit on the floor and play with him for hours.
His growing need for attention and my growing belly were in competition and I was already having a difficult time keeping up with the demand. How would I be able to handle two when both of them could be vocal? Also, how was I going to make the transition smooth for my oldest? I was so worried that Liam would resent his younger brother and would begin to act out for attention. I never wanted Liam to think he was being replaced, that mommy no longer had time for him, or that baby brother’s needs came before his. Liam was my first baby and it was so difficult to think about how adding another baby could change who he was.

I spent months reading up on how to ease the transition, talking to friends and family with multiple children, and brainstorming ways to prepare Liam for the changes ahead. Amazingly the transition has been relatively smooth. There have been a couple of bumps in the road: “Mommy, Nolan needs to go to his own home now” and “He needs to find his own mommy”, but he also really cares about his little brother. He gives him kisses every morning, night, and every other time he leaves him, plays with him on the floor, and proudly introduces him to everyone we meet.

Here are the things we tried that may help to ease the transition from only child to big sibling:

*Talk to them about the new baby as early as possible: We started talking about the new baby almost immediately after finding out I was pregnant. We told Liam that he was going to be a big brother and that there would soon be a new baby in the house. We answered all of his questions honestly, even when they were difficult. We reminded him constantly about what was to come.

*Read books: We made several trip to the library and local book stores to find books that discussed being an older sibling and read them as a family every day. Once again, Liam asked many questions about the babies and the older children in the books, and we answered the questions while discussing what it would be like for him when baby brother arrived.

*Don’t blame the baby: This one was difficult to do. Every time Liam asked to be carried or wanted me to run with him at the park, I had to remind myself not to say, “I can’t. Baby brother is getting too big” or “Baby brother is making mommy tired”. These statements make the older child feel like the new baby is already ruining their fun and taking attention away. Older siblings will learn to resent the baby even before they are born. Instead I said things like, “You are such a big boy now. You can walk like mommy and daddy” or “Mommy is a little tired today, but you can run and I will cheer for you”. These options seemed to work for my son.

*Make time to play (before and after the baby arrives): Before Nolan was born, Liam and I had a special time during the day where we would do whatever he wanted (paint, go for a walk, watch a movie, play with his toys, etc). Joe and Liam had a similar time of the day. When Nolan entered the equation this became a bit more difficult, but it is still a priority. Now we go around Nolan’s schedule, but we still have “Liam time” everyday. It may be shorter, and there may not be a specific time of the day, but it still happens. This makes it easier on Liam when I can’t give him the attention he wants.

*Big Brother Gift: When Liam came to the hospital to meet Nolan, we gave him a very special gift from his new little brother. We made sure that it was something that Liam would love, that it would last more than just a day or two, and that it was something that we could do together. In our case, it was a Spiderman bath set. It came with a Spiderman squirt toy, bubble bath, fake tattoos, and stickers. The day we came home from the hospital, Liam took a bath with mommy, daddy, and Nolan in the room to see him enjoy his gift.

*Teach them to be helpers: Even before the baby came, we started to teach Liam to be a helper. We asked him to help us get ready for Nolan- he picked out some things for the baby registry, he folded and put away baby clothes, helped assemble the crib, etc. Once Nolan came it continued, but the helpful tasks were directly related to Nolan- getting/throwing away diapers, singing to baby brother when he cries, finding toys for Nolan to play with, and picking out Nolan’s clothes for the day and pjs for the night. This not only keeps him busy, but he really enjoys helping take care of his brother.

*Family Activities: This is really two tips in one. The first is to get the older child involved in activities that are just for them. For example, since Nolan was born we have signed Liam up for swimming lessons, we now attend toddler time at our local library, family gym at the YMCA, and Joe and Liam will begin ice skating classes this weekend. We will attend these activities as a family, so that Liam gets attention from both parents and gets time where he is the focus. The second tip is to find things that will wear them out. All of the activities we chose require a great deal of movement. This makes nap time go much easier so that I can have a couple of minutes to myself in the afternoon (as long as the little one cooperates).

*Introductions: Teach the older sibling to introduce the younger one. This way, the older sibling gets attention from the visitor right away which is usually accompanied by praise and comments about how cute they are, or how great of a big brother they are. It also gives them a sense of pride for their younger sibling.

*Nursing = Attention: Whenever I nurse, Liam and I pick an activity that we can do together. This is a wonderful time to give the older sibling attention, because baby is taken care of and quiet. This works best if you have a wrap like a Moby where your child can nurse hands-free. Liam and I usually play a board game, put a puzzle together, do an art activity, or watch a movie of his choosing.

*Praise: The final tip is to praise your older child whenever they do something that shows that they care about the baby, is helpful, or shows that they are becoming more independent. Anytime that Liam hugs his brother, gives him a kiss, talks/sings to him, plays with him, or introduces him to others we tell him how great of a big brother he is. When he helps out by getting things that we need or playing quietly while I take care of the baby, he hears “Thank you!” And when he does something like go to the potty by himself or put on his clothes, I make a big deal about it. It makes him feel proud and it gives me one less thing to do.

I have heard many other tips, but these are the ones that we tried and believe were helpful in our situation. I’m sure that not all of them will work for everyone, so picking and choosing what is best for your toddler and family is important. Good luck and I hope your transition from one to two goes smoothly and happily.

Nolan and his amazing big brother

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