Along with the usual feelings of anticipation and joy, anxiety and worry are extremely common emotions found among parents who are expecting their second child. Parents worry that their first child is going to feel abandoned by them, displaced by the baby, or angry at having to share his/her parents’ attention and affection for the first time. As a result, many parents seek advice around how they can best help their child adjust to the new addition.
Research shows that when parents prepare their children for the birth of a new sibling, they tend to have less adjustment issues, but due to limited language skills and cognitive understanding, it can be challenging for parents to fully prepare a toddler for the emotional upheaval that the addition of a new sibling often brings. In fact, it is not uncommon for a toddler to remain completely oblivious to the upcoming arrival of a new sibling throughout their mother’s pregnancy, even when they are repeatedly told what to expect and are involved in the preparation for the newborn. Regardless of this lack of understanding, there are several things parents can do to at least try and help them feel at ease with the big changes going on in their family:
- Move the toddler out of the baby’s room well in advance of the baby’s arrival to avoid having the toddler feel anxious, confused or displaced. Or, if space allows, set the baby up somewhere else and allow the toddler to stay in the space where he/she is most comfortable.
- If the toddler is not weaned from the breast, it may be prudent to start the weaning process, (again, well in advance of the baby’s arrival), so that the baby and toddler do not have to compete for access to the breast. Having to breastfeed a toddler and a baby at the same time can be stressful for the mother and the children.
- Although parents are often highly motivated to get their toddler out of diapers before the new baby arrives, it is important not to put too much pressure on them to become potty-trained. Similarly, it is important not to remove a toddler from their crib before they are ready, simply to make room for the baby. Rushing toddlers through important developmental transitions, (such as going from diapers to underwear or from the crib to a bed), can complicate and, ultimately, prolong these processes, rather than assist them.
- Increase toddlers’ independence whenever possible. However, toddlers should not be told that they have to become more independent because of the new baby. Instead, they should be praised and encouraged when engaging in more mature, independent behaviours, such as falling asleep on their own, feeding themselves, going to the potty, etc.
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