Whether it was a joyful surprise or meticulously planned, welcoming a new baby when you’ve already got a toddler in the house can be as exciting as it is stressful.
As you pull the baby swing and crib back out of storage, there’s a lot you can do to prepare your toddler for the big change headed your family’s way. If you choose to be proactive, you can encourage a smooth(er) transition for everyone in your household, toddler included.
🗣 Start the conversation
Even if your toddler can’t speak yet, they likely understand a lot of what you say. The moment you’re ready to open up about your exciting news, start talking with your toddler about it. Explain that it will be a while before the baby comes, but that he will be an important part of your family once he arrives.
Look for children's books like the ones on this list and check to see if any of the children’s TV shows they watch have special episodes about a new sibling. You can also pull out photos and videos of your toddler as a baby so they can see what they used to look (and act) like.
🛠 Give them an active role
Toddlers love to be helpful (when it suits them), so use that to your advantage. Let them help decorate the nursery and put away the baby supplies. Have them decide which corner the swing will go in.
When it’s nearly time for the baby to arrive, have your toddler choose a gift to give their new sibling. You may also want to pick out a gift “from baby” to your toddler.
Practice runs will help them understand what will be expected once there’s a baby in the house. Have gentle playtime with a baby doll to show them how to hold and touch a newborn. Practice quiet time, too. There will be lots of that while the baby naps!
🧸 Prepare your toddler for reality
When your toddler thinks of a baby, it’s likely not a newborn. They may envision a tiny playmate to tumble around with!
Model proper care for your toddler with stuffed animals or dolls. Explain that baby will grow, but at first his neck will be a bit floppy and he will have to cry to tell everyone what he wants. Talk about what feedings will look like, whether you’re planning to breastfeed or bottle feed. Practice waiting and sharing. Both will be a really big deal here in a few, short months.
Some hospitals have new sibling classes to help you with this, and your doctor might welcome a little visitor at a routine prenatal checkup.
🗓 Big changes ahead of time
If a new baby means new sleeping arrangements, start laying the groundwork right away. For one thing, you don’t want your toddler to associate the baby with those changes. For another, it may take longer than you anticipate.
This goes for toilet training, too. If you want your toddler to be potty trained before baby arrives, start early! If you don’t think they will be ready in time, plan to leave a buffer between the new baby’s arrival and the beginning of toilet training.
✅ Prepare yourself, too
Despite your best efforts, your toddler will probably catch you off guard a few times during this transition. It’s what toddlers do best, after all.
Acting out could be your toddler’s way of showing jealousy or asking for attention. Be aware that it’s normal for siblings to regress in both sleep, behavior, and toilet activity with the arrival of a baby. Accidents happen under normal circumstances, so give your toddler a bit of grace if there are a few more changes of clothing than usual in those first weeks.
You can help yourself by planning some quiet activities for the baby’s nap-time and prepping some freezer meals ahead of time. Anything that cuts down on stress while you adjust is a great thing!
Most importantly, enjoy this time no matter how chaotic it might be. It won’t be long before your toddler and his new sidekick are best friends and, quite likely, partners in crime!