Helping toddlers when there's a baby coming

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 6, 2012 06:00 AM

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I'm expecting my second child in March 2013 and at that time the baby's older brother will be two. Recently I have noticed that he gets upset/jealous when I hold another baby or pay attention to another child. Which I feel is quite normal for a child his age, and being an only child at this time. But I wonder how he'll be when his brother/sister arrives next year. And is there anything I can do during my pregnancy to get him prepared? Or do I wait until the baby arrives to see how he reacts/adjusts? I would appreciate any advice you may have. Thank you.

From: Kristen, Boston, MA


Dear Kristen,

When the first-born is so young and has limited cognitive ability, the best thing you can do to help him be prepared is to be prepared yourself. By that I mean, be ready for your own emotional and psychological shifts so that you aren't unwittingly or unnecessarily preoccupied worries at the thought of a second child:

* Will I be spreading myself too thin?

* How will I carve out time for a baby and still have time for my 2-year-old, not to mention myself and my husband?

* Will I be able to meet the unique needs of each child?

These feelings are normal but if you don't have the chance to talk them out (with your spouse, a best friend, your mom), they can bloom into anxiety that can affect your ability to parent and your accessibility to your first-born.

As I write in my book on the section about welcoming a second child, even if you don't have anxiety, the relationship with your child typically does change sometime during pregnancy simply because you may be less physically available. Kids sense the change. Some of them get clingy, whiny and/or hyperactive while others become quiet and withdrawn. In an effort to re-engage you, a toddler is most likely to insist on being involved in activities with you which -- ta da! -- tires you out and makes you more unavailable.

Recognizing a toddler's uncanny sensitivity to mom has changed the advice professionals offer from waiting until the very end to tell a toddler a baby is coming to telling at the same time you tell other people.

When you tell him, be matter-of-fact: "A new baby is growing in a special place inside of me. When it gets born, it will be a part of our family." Don't say it's growing in your stomach -- that can prompt sympathy pains; if you want to name the place, use the correct word: uterus or womb.

Other tips:
Don't expect him to be happy or excited. He has no idea what this means. If he says, "I don't want a baby," resist the urge to say, "Of course you do! It'll be fun." Instead, answer the question he's unable to ask: "Will you still love me when there's a baby?" Even though this is unspoken, tell him, "When the baby is here, I'll love you the same as now. Mom and dad will take care of you, just like now."

Emphasize what will stay the same, not what will change. Be specific: "We'll still read a story every night before bed. You'll still go to daycare."

Make changes to his life early in the pregnancy, especially if you are switching him to a new room or bed.

If you are ill during the pregnancy, avoid saying the baby has made you sick. You're just not feeling well; you need a nap. Your feet need to rest.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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3 comments so far...
  1. I disagree with one piece of advice that Barbara has given. Do NOT, do NOT change your child, who is not even 2 yet, to a bed before his sibling is born. Your son is too young to move to a bed and you will regret it when you are trying to care for a newborn and your older child is coming out of his room every 2 minutes with a new excuse for why he cant go to sleep yet. If your son is in a crib now, keep him in one, and buy a new crib for the baby. Ok, the end. You will thank me later!

    Posted by Kristen September 6, 12 10:57 AM
  1. Get the child used to self-entertaining and self-occupying way before the baby comes. If the day the baby comes home is the first time he's had to go without direct interaction, he's going to be upset with the baby, which makes sense to him. It looks like the baby has turned off the faucet of hot and cold running attention.

    Find age-appropriate, slightly challenging toys or coloring or puzzles that he can do for ten or twenty minutes while you do something else. Let him know you'll read with him when you finish the dishes. Redirect when he comes to you every two minutes for thirty seconds of attention. Repeat until he understands that Mom hasn't forgotten his existence, and yes you will interact with him when you're done with the task at hand. Then changing or feeding or spending time with the baby won't be out of the ordinary--it's just one more thing Mom does.

    Posted by di September 6, 12 01:04 PM
  1. We got our daughter a baby doll to try and get used to how to interact (being nice, not touching eyes, etc) with babies before the baby was born, it also helps because she mimics me with her baby. She is 18.5 months and my son is 8 weeks and she has been adjusting wonderfully. Dad has also been very involved with her more so that I can focus on the little guy so that helps a lot.

    We also make sure she knows how special she is ( I try and do something with just her such as read a book or play a game while little guy is napping) and what a big helper she is (it is her job to put all the diapers in the garbage).

    Posted by Jenn September 6, 12 04:02 PM
 
3 comments so far...
  1. I disagree with one piece of advice that Barbara has given. Do NOT, do NOT change your child, who is not even 2 yet, to a bed before his sibling is born. Your son is too young to move to a bed and you will regret it when you are trying to care for a newborn and your older child is coming out of his room every 2 minutes with a new excuse for why he cant go to sleep yet. If your son is in a crib now, keep him in one, and buy a new crib for the baby. Ok, the end. You will thank me later!

    Posted by Kristen September 6, 12 10:57 AM
  1. Get the child used to self-entertaining and self-occupying way before the baby comes. If the day the baby comes home is the first time he's had to go without direct interaction, he's going to be upset with the baby, which makes sense to him. It looks like the baby has turned off the faucet of hot and cold running attention.

    Find age-appropriate, slightly challenging toys or coloring or puzzles that he can do for ten or twenty minutes while you do something else. Let him know you'll read with him when you finish the dishes. Redirect when he comes to you every two minutes for thirty seconds of attention. Repeat until he understands that Mom hasn't forgotten his existence, and yes you will interact with him when you're done with the task at hand. Then changing or feeding or spending time with the baby won't be out of the ordinary--it's just one more thing Mom does.

    Posted by di September 6, 12 01:04 PM
  1. We got our daughter a baby doll to try and get used to how to interact (being nice, not touching eyes, etc) with babies before the baby was born, it also helps because she mimics me with her baby. She is 18.5 months and my son is 8 weeks and she has been adjusting wonderfully. Dad has also been very involved with her more so that I can focus on the little guy so that helps a lot.

    We also make sure she knows how special she is ( I try and do something with just her such as read a book or play a game while little guy is napping) and what a big helper she is (it is her job to put all the diapers in the garbage).

    Posted by Jenn September 6, 12 04:02 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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