Suggestions and strategies for helping toddlers to adjust to a new baby.

Whānau feelings about having another baby

Welcoming a new baby to the family can be both exciting and worrying. For example, there may be practical concerns, like housing or financial worries, around the arrival of a new addition – especially if it’s an unplanned pregnancy.

Whānau may also be concerned about how siblings will adjust, especially if their current baby is still quite young.

Parents expecting their second child can feel overwhelmed by the thought of spreading their time and attention between their children – something they haven’t had to do before.

For those with a number of other young children, the sheer workload can be daunting, especially combined with the expected sleep disturbances. It’s important to encourage parents to think about where and how they might access support in the first few months.

Younger children may need time to adjust to the concept of sharing. During pregnancy, discussing the new baby with the other children will help them prepare for the new addition.

Sharing might range from their old buggy or cot, to sharing mum and dad’s attention and affection. When they learn to share their parents’ attention, it shows they’ve built a secure emotional attachment with their parents, which will positively influence their future relationships.

Understandings toddlers’ feelings

Encouraging parents to see things from their toddler’s point of view might help parents understand their toddler’s behaviours.

How might parents feel if all of a sudden one of them introduced a new partner into the family mix? And they had to share all of their things too...

Having a younger sibling — a chance to learn

The new baby gives the sibling a chance to build a peer relationship and further develop their social and emotional skills.

  • Some toddlers may show no interest in the new baby at all and are more intrigued by the new baby creams or powders.
  • Or, they might be interested in every detail of the new baby and want to explore fully at every opportunity – poking, pulling and prodding.
  • Adults in the whānau need to be watchful, use their calmest voices and repeat words like ‘gentle hands’ or ‘soft touching’ to help encourage the behaviours they want to see. Parents can introduce this strategy during pregnancy, encouraging their toddler’s gentle touch on the pregnant puku.
  • Siblings who don’t talk much yet may show their feelings through their behaviour. Parents might see a regression in their toddler’s developmental behaviours like:
    • trouble with toileting
    • clinginess
    • wanting a dummy or bottle
    • wanting to breastfeed again, if they’ve recently been weaned.

It’s important to remain calm and understand that young children experience emotions just like adults, but may not have the ability to articulate their feelings.

How to help siblings adjust

Siblings, especially toddlers, will need help from their family to adjust to the changes.

Here are some ideas that can help:

  • Introduce the new baby before it’s born.
  • Set some uninterrupted one-on-one time aside with the sibling.
  • Encourage visitors or other family members to give special attention to the sibling too.
  • Reassure toddlers often that they are still important and loved.
  • Maintain some familiar routines.
  • Give siblings simple ways they can help with the baby.
  • Read books together about other families welcoming new babies.