Prepare Your Toddler Before Bringing a New Baby Home

Look at it as if your spouse announced that a new, younger, and more vulnerable wife was joining your family: ” She will need a lot of my close attention at first.  That doesn’t mean I don’t love you just as much, sweetie, but I won’t be as available to you as I used to be. She will sleep with me every night, but we will still have a few minutes together when she is resting.  I am so proud that you don’t need me as much as you used to!”.

How does that sound to you?  Not too wonderful, and yet you would realize that protesting got you criticized, and acting out got you punished.  Maybe there is another way to add a new member to the family?

If you ever had a reason to use The Happiest Toddler methods to build your toddler’s patience and develop his ability to deal with defiance and whining, now would be the time to take out that book again.  Read the chapter on the Fast Food Rule to deal with outbursts.  Then go on to the time-in section. Dr. Karp recommends the magic breathing stress reduction technique, as well as time-ins such as gossiping (about him to the baby in your belly) and “playing the boob” in which you set up situations in which your toddler is the one with the right answer, the more effective puzzle assembly skill, etc.  You are trying to shore up his self-confidence and self-calming to prepare him for the inevitable issues of jealousy and waiting longer for attention.

Toddlers love praise, but this is the time for focused, understated praise as well as chances to revert to being the baby for short periods.  It sounds silly unless you know that without being invited to cuddle like a baby for a few minutes, your toddler may insist on being a baby at exactly the moment that makes it impossible for you to comply.  As in the middle of a messy newborn diaper change.  You choose the moment, and you will get a better outcome.

Think this is the moment to move him out of the crib or take away the pacifier?  Those things are a part of his sense of security.  If you want to make these changes, you might do them well in advance of the birth or well after.  You would not want your toddler to resent the baby by associating these “losses” with your newborn.  Toddler anger and sense of betrayal is not going to last forever, but it can result in a loss of new skills such as daytime toilet training and even a willingness to walk instead of being carried.

I have heard of families obtaining a toy that the newborn can “give” to a toddler when you bring your new baby home, and I think this strategy can work for some children.  Some families like to have the toddler give a toy to the new baby as well.  Giving away anything when you are in a vulnerable state is harder than usual.  Your toddler might decide that he needs that rattle more.  If that happens, try not to criticize him for being selfish.  It is just a vulnerable toddler trying to shore up his strength in the face of changes he did not authorize and he realizes he cannot reverse.

Toddlers have a tendency to suddenly want to revert to infancy when they see you cuddling a tiny baby.  It can get ugly if that happens in the grocery store and he refuses to walk.  Instead of waiting until your toddler throws himself on the floor or insists on using only “baby talk, why not invite him to be your little baby for a short time?  By offering him the chance to pretend to be a baby, maybe hold him like a baby or babble to him, you are taking the reigns of when and how this happens.  The bonus?  Just like the magic of the Fast Food Rule, Dr. Karp’s signature plan for toddler communication, your stressed toddler sees you as someone who perceives what is on his mind with love and compassion.  Everyone wins.

Finally, practicing being helpful with the new baby, such as bringing over a clean diaper and shushing the baby, can be fun and paired with other good times such as special toddler snacks that the baby won’t be “allowed” to eat!

By Cathy Collyer

I am a licensed occupational therapist, licensed massage therapist, and certified CBT-i sleep coach in private practice in the NYC area. I have over 25 years of professional experience in adult and pediatric treatment. It has been a joy to help people of all ages improve their ability to grow and thrive! Occupational therapists are focused on enhancing a client's functioning in everyday life. We are practical healthcare providers, interested in teaching, adapting actions and environments, and building a client's useful skills for living their best life, regardless of their challenges. I am the author of five books, including "Staying In The Room: Managing Medical And Dental Care When You Have DID" and "The Practical Guide To Toilet Training the Autistic Child". I lecture on many subjects, including sleep, trauma, and development. Contact me to learn more about how I can help you achieve YOUR goals!

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