How to Help Your Toddler or Preschooler Adjust to a New Sibling

A new baby is a big change for the whole family, but especially siblings-to-be. Help your child adjust with tips from an experienced child development expert and former Smart Love Preschool teacher.

Welcoming a new baby is an exciting time for the whole family. For toddlers and preschoolers, though, their excitement can be tempered with uncertainty. As a parent, how can you juggle the demands and joys of your new little bundle while helping your older kids deal with the changes? 

“The needs of toddlers and preschoolers are even greater when a new baby arrives,” says Kathryn Gadomski, child development expert and former preschool teacher at The Natalie G. Heineman Smart Love Preschool. “You can support your child by offering patience and understanding.”

Understand your child’s thoughts and emotions

Toddlers and preschoolers don’t always have the words to express how they are feeling about the impending arrival of a new baby. This can cause them — and you — frustration when trying to help them work through their emotions.

“Children this age express themselves through behavior and symbolic play,” says Gadomski. 

What you can do: Be positive, caring and receptive to all feelings when your child expresses herself through behavior or play, Gadomski suggests. Otherwise, they may turn inward and be less likely to express themselves with you.

Anticipate preschool reluctance

When a new baby arrives, preschoolers can suddenly become “clingy.” The idea of going to preschool can feel like a daunting separation at a time when they crave extra cuddles and attention. 

With her years of experience as a preschool teacher, Gadomski says that preschool can be a great family resource. “A teacher can help by providing supportive feedback to the parents about the child’s perspective on the family changes in a relaxed and caring manner,” she notes.

What you can do: Make the process of getting ready and going to preschool fun, Gadomski suggests. “The ride to school can be a time when your child gets to have a special snack or hear their favorite music, anything that has meaning for the child.”  

An after-preschool ritual with you, the parent, can make preschoolers more excited about school as well. “Just 30 minutes of focused attention is helpful,” says Gadomski.

Prepare your child for changes

“Kids don’t have the life experience to understand what it’s like to have a new baby around,” says Gadomski. “Parents can expect children to be amazed by their new brother or sister at first. This initial excitement is often followed by feelings of being replaced by the new baby.”

What you can do:  Gadomski suggests that you expose your child to the idea of new babies. For example, take your kids to visit family and friends with newborns, if possible. “Share ultrasounds with your child and discuss what you see,” says Gadomski. “Try reading topical books about sisters and brothers,” she says. “All of this can get your child excited about their new sibling.”

Involve children in caring for the new baby

Once the baby arrives, you are going to be focused on caring for your newborn — and exhausted to boot. However, your older child is still going to want your attention. Gadomski suggests that you ask a child who is willing to help you with baby-care tasks. One caveat: If your child isn’t interested, don’t push it.

“Most toddlers and preschoolers like to do things themselves. You can meet this natural desire for your child to imitate their beloved caregivers by offering them the option to help,” says Gadomski. 

What you can do: Have your child hold the bottle or the baby — supervised — of course. Or ask your child if they would like to get diapers, toys or supplies for you. This will make them feel needed, important and connected to you.

Address jealousy

Jealousy is a common emotion when a new sibling arrives. “A new baby represents a shift in attention and energy for your child,” says Gadomski. “They have lost your undivided attention.”

Be patient as you help your toddler or preschooler adjust to a new sibling. “Avoid pressuring your child to express excitement or affection for your new baby. It can backfire and prolong the feelings of jealousy and displacement,” Gadomski suggests.

Role modeling is important, too. “Show that caring for the baby is a positive and joyful experience. Kids take their cues from you.”

What you can do: Create opportunities to give your older child individual attention. “Even half an hour of reading a book or playing will reassure them,” says Gadomski. Plus, extra hugs and affection are helpful to mitigate jealousy and increase closeness.

If you are overwhelmed with the demands of new parenthood, call on others to help.

“Have your older child spend time with aunts, uncles, grandparents or close family friends. They can provide your child with the one-on-one attention they crave when you can’t,” Gadomski notes. If possible, have these relatives and friends spend time with the baby and use this time to give your older child attention.

Balance demands while maintaining consistency

The whole family dynamic shifts after your new baby’s arrival. Anything your older child relies on for comfort is important, says Gadomski.

Favorite toys, blankets, and yes, binkies can help calm your child, Gadomski says. “Now is not the time to have your older child give up their pacifier if they still have it.”

“Young children thrive on consistent routines and habits,” she says. “It’s important to maintain these as much as you can.” 

What you can do: If, for example, you always read your child a story at bedtime, try to stick with it.

Whenever possible, keep up with regular activities you and your child enjoy doing together, like Mommy & Me or story time at the library. You can also combine caregiving tasks. For example, talk with your older child while feeding the baby or quietly read a story together while your baby naps nearby.

Navigating the introduction of a new baby to the family is a delicate process that requires patience, understanding and proactive parenting, says Gadomski.

“By keeping routines and offering loving support, your older child will become more confident and secure.”

For more information on Smart Love Preschool and its commitment to caring for children, visit www.smartlovepreschool.org.

Jennifer Kales
Jennifer Kales
Content editor Jennifer Kales has been in the business of writing for more than 20 years creating advertising copy, blogs, books and everything in between. She loves helping Chicago Parent clients tell their stories in a way that resonates with audiences.

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