There’s an ongoing poll in my mom-friend circles about which transition is the hardest: Having your first kid, going from 1 to 2 kids, 2 to 3 kids or adding more kids after 3. Each transition is different but going from 1 to 2 kids is REALLY REALLY HARD!
If the first child is a toddler, you have to help your toddler adjust to the new baby. If your first child is older, they might be even more jealous of the new baby, and struggle with feeling pushed aside by the tiny newcomer. We had 4 kids in 5 years (no twins), so by the time the 4th came along, we had 2 preschoolers, a toddler and a newborn.
This post will deal primarily with toddlers, but some of the ideas are good for more generally helping older siblings cope with the new baby! Having a second baby with a toddler around is no walk in the park, but you can help your toddler adjust to the new baby.
1. Prepare your toddler before baby arrives.
You know that saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”?
In this case, not so much… haha, because you can “prepare” like the professional mom of the year that you are, and your toddler will probably still have some meltdowns while you’re nursing.
BUT, preparation can’t hurt! And for some kids, it’ll really help.
If you have friends who have newborns while you’re pregnant, that’s the easiest situation to introduce your toddler to the concept. “Their family had a new baby! Look at the sweet baby Joe. He is so nice. Do you want to give him a gentle kiss like this?” Demonstrate gentle, but let the toddler touch and point to the baby if the other family is okay with it!
“Their family had a new baby! Look at the sweet baby Joe. He is so nice. Do you want to give him a gentle kiss like this?” Demonstrate gentle, but let the toddler touch and point to the baby if the other family is okay with it!
If you plan to nurse, and you have a friend who is nursing, that’s a bonus too! “Miss Ashley is feeding her baby. Her body makes milk to help her baby.” Or if you plan to bottle feed and your friend is bottle feeding, “Baby Joe can’t feed himself… His mommy has to help. You can help me feed our baby with a bottle too.”
Snag a couple books too – these are a few we liked:
Keep an eye out for small opportunities to have your toddler interact with little babies and be patient!
When our 4th came along, our 3rd was only 20 months old (read: barely verbal and excellent at climbing… yikes!)
When he came to the hospital, he was missing Mommy and confused about what the heck was going on… When we asked if he wanted to hold or meet the new baby he said, “Nooooo! and ran to my mother-in-law in tears.”
But it didn’t take long before he was mesmerized and loving and “baby this” and “baby that.”
Their bond will come. Give it time.
By the way, if you are pregnant and have a baby/ toddler around, here are 23 more tips for just surviving your pregnancy while chasing other kids. It’s no joke!!
#2 – The Patient Song
I’m no Mozart, but I made this up when our 2nd kid was born and it stuck.
Sung to the tune of Are You Sleeping:
We are patient, we are patient
While we wait for what we want
With a good attitude, with a good attitude
We are patient, we are patient.
My aforementioned 3rd child may or may not have screamed “noooo” while I sang this to him once or twice, but we kept singing it and he got passed that phase. At almost 3 years old now, he’ll initiate singing it if I tell him to “wait patiently.”
Besides passing the time with a song to sing together, it also helps a toddler learn what “patient” means by singing it frequently in context.
I highly suggest introducing it when no one is melting down.
For example, if you notice your toddler waiting nicely for something, say, “Elliot! You are waiting so patiently. I know a song about that. It goes like this: [then sing it.]”
Rather than trying to sing it for the first time when he’s tantruming on the floor… (speaking from experience.)
Speaking of tantrums on the floor, these ideas for proactive + positive 1 year old behavior might help!!
#3 – Tell the second baby to wait sometimes.
My mother in law had 2 “pairs” of kids, 18 months apart each time and she passed on this tip to me. Go out of your way to tell the baby to wait while the toddler is listening. “Hold on a minute, Baby Lucas. I’m helping Elliot get his toys right now.”
You’re really saying this out loud for your toddler’s benefit. It communicates to your toddler that everyone has to take turns waiting in the family.
When really trying to help my toddler cope with the newborn, I’ll reiterate a few times, “Sorry baby, you have to wait right now. I’m helping Elliot. Elliot did you notice that baby is waiting for me to help you? Sometimes kids have to wait their turn for mom’s help. That’s part of being in a family.”
This situation doesn’t always resonate amazingly in the moment but it does set the pace and tone for your home. I’ve seen this type of taking turns attitude play out well especially as the kids have gotten older!
#4 – Accept all offers for help.
Ask a friend to set up a meal train for you. Budget a little extra for grocery delivery (this link lets you try Instacart with $10 off!). Let a friend take your toddler for the day. Whatever help is offered, say yes and enjoy it. Don’t be too proud to accept help!
#5- Get the new baby on a schedule.
Everything with 2+ kids will be a million times easier if you know approximately when your baby will need to eat and sleep on a given day.
We put our newborns on a relatively predictable schedule basically from the week we brought them home…
It worked so well for our family that I wrote a short ebook guide about it. It’s been downloaded thousands of times & gets great reviews! You can check out the guide & the reviews here!
#6 – Include toddler in caring for the second baby.
Even though everything takes longer when you include the toddler, I like to let them help & be nearby if they’re interested. Getting wipes, opening wipes, pulling wipes out, getting a diaper, choosing a onesie, whatever they can do to feel like they’re participating.
Because our family is a team!
#7 – Don’t Permit Horrible Toddler Behavior Just Because There’s a Newborn
Obviously, adding a baby to the family is a huge adjustment for your toddler.
And life is already hard on the toddler because they’re in the middle of a totally normal test of boundaries trying to figure out what’s allowed, what’s not allowed, and who is in charge.
(Apparently the Danes call toddlerhood “The Boundary Stage.” Because 2 year olds are wired to test the boundaries. I love that!)
Your toddler’s world has been rocked. We give so much grace during this transition – extra mommy time, special activities, less time spent on household chores & more time spent filling the toddler’s love/ security bucket.
This does not mean the toddler is allowed to hit, kick, or do other inappropriate behavior.
I pause whatever I’m doing with baby (even nursing) to deal with this type of behavior when necessary because:
- It’s much easier in the long run to deal with it at first than permitting it under the umbrella of, “he must be having a hard time.”
- It won’t take your 2 year old long to figure out that they can get away with way more while you’re nursing than when you’re not. Unless you pause baby-care when possible to consistently deal with bad toddler behavior the same way you would if you weren’t taking care of baby.
#8 – No questions of empathy in tantrums.
If your toddler is, say, tantruming because you can’t get him something while you nurse, asking empathetic questions will not help. (Such as: Don’t you see the baby is hungry? Don’t you want me to feed the baby?”)
Toddlers just don’t have a lot of empathy. They’re incredibly egocentric. Sure, a 2 year old may occasionally express concern about the baby crying, but that’s about it.
Otherwise, it’s all MINE, MINE MINE, ME, ME ME, and NOOOOO!!!!! Haha 🙂
Your toddler won’t really be able to understand or identify with: “Don’t you want mommy to feed the baby? He’s hungry. How do you feel when you’re hungry?”
Try this instead: “I’ll help you get that when I’m finished feeding baby. Let’s sing a song” (or whatever else is in your arsenal of activities during nursing.)
Side note: teaching empathy to young children is a great endeavor! Definitely find opportunities to help your kids learn to feel with others. We teach empathy very intentionally throughout the days. Even to toddlers! Just not while they’re tantruming over not getting their way…because it likely won’t work in that moment.
#9 – Resist the urge to use screens (a slight side note)
Our first child literally learned to count on an iPhone app while I was nursing! We have definitely tried screens in the past. And so many of our real life friends let their kids play super fun and educational games on tablets. So please hear me in this – if you want to let your kid play on a tablet every time you feed the baby, go for it!!
For us, it wasn’t worth it. Here’s why. (Consider this the slight side note.)
In our experience, touch screen activities essentially turned our kids into monsters. We had a pretty strict 15 minutes a day after naptime rule, and still… it honestly just wasn’t worth it.
If they saw my phone out, they’d ask to use it all the time (even though the rule was 15 minutes after naps). They cried if I said “no.” They were always “bored.” They would ask other adults to play with their phones repeatedly… even after being told no.
And I honestly think it made them crabbier and worse at creative, imaginative playing in general… Because once we just stopped letting them use phones/ tablets altogether, it basically became a non issue.
We quit screens cold turkey. We just had a conversation at dinner one night:
“We’re not going to play on phones anymore. It makes you kids too crabby and it makes your brains mushy.”
They pleaded, “We won’t be crabby!!”
We calmly responded, “Nope. We’re not doing it anymore. Maybe when you’re older.”
It was hard … for a week or so. There were meltdowns and tantrums. (Withdrawal symptoms, perhaps!? Touch screens are said to be quite addicting…)
Then, suddenly, it was fine! And honestly, it was WAY better!!! The kids learned to play together. Our 2, 4, and 6 year old play nicely together for long periods of time most days. (Of course they bicker like all siblings.)
In general, though, I think not using touch screens has helped their ability to play imaginatively, not hindered it.
To each their own! I just wanted to share our experience because we’ve actually notice a net-positive from cutting touch screens. At the end of the day, the 15 minutes of silence here and there weren’t worth all the other negative behaviors and drama surrounding touch screens.
So we just don’t have them in our home for our children, and I try to not be on my phone all day around my kids. It’s hard at first, but worth it in our opinion!!
BTW – We do let them watch shows
We do let our kids watch an episode or two of a show in the afternoon (especially during our polar vortex midwest winters).
They watch a lot of movies on road trips in the minivan. Our older kids love drawing tutorials on youtube and our 6 year old is learning to type on my laptop! So we are not totally screen free by any means!!
We’ve just found, that for our family, the touch screens have more negative effects than positive ones for our kids.
#10 – Gather a few things for your toddler to do while you are feeding the newborn.
If you’re going to try feeding the newborn without the help of touchscreens, some other activities are nice to have.
If your toddler is very young, very active, and/or very destructive, you might consider gathering a basket of special nursing activities. Here are 28 ideas!
Get the basket out right when it’s time to nurse the baby, and clean it up as soon as you’re done. If the activities are super fun, your toddler might throw a fit the first few times you put it away. But if you’re consistent, he’ll learn very quickly (probably in less than 2 days) that the super fun basket comes out when mom feeds the baby! Which is several times a day!
Pro Momma Tip: Less is always more with toddlers.
They will stay occupied for MUCH LONGER amounts of time with 3 or fewer high quality toys. So, I suggest gathering a handful of items and hide them. Put 3 in the basket plus a few books and switch them out every week or 2.
Our favorite toddler toys are:
- Cheap magnetic tiles – we’ve had these exact ones for years
- Duplos (giant legos) – these train duplos are a fan fave + a set of basic bricks is fun for building
- Something to ride
- Something to jump on
- Something to climb + balance on
- Sandra Boynton board books
- Point to the picture board books
- Stuffed animals– 6 for under
- Baby doll + stroller – our kids have loved one like this for putting tons of things in!
- Small basket with handles they can carry around, dump out, and refill.
- Large animal figurines
*Remember, don’t put ALL those toys in the nursing basket at once. Put a few in for the week, and switch them out next week.
Be careful not to command your toddler where you can’t follow through when feeding the baby.
I also suggest not commanding your toddler to clean up while you’re nursing. Just let the house or room get messy (even destroyed!) and then have the toddler help you clean up when you’re done feeding the baby… or better yet at the end of the day.
Otherwise, you’ll ask your toddler to clean up, and he’ll probably shout “NO!” at you while you’re feeding the baby.
Then you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth dealing with a time-out or something mid-nursing session… and if you don’t do a time-out/ discipline for your toddler disobeying while nursing, then he will quickly figure out he CAN disobey while your nurse. Haha!
I learned that from experience 😉 Better to just not give too many commands while nursing.
Here are 31 more activities + ideas to keep your toddler busy while you’re nursing, breastfeeding, or bottle feeding the baby.
#11 – Don’t Forget To Take Care Of Yourself!
Just remember: the desperation feeling with a toddler and newborn is VERY REAL. IT’S ALSO VERY TEMPORARY. In my experience, I had to give up kind of a lot of my “free time” because just managing your newborn’s and toddler’s basic needs is very time consuming when you have 2 kids under 2 (ish).
The whole “self care” thing is super popular, but it is going to look a lot different and more limited when you have a toddler and newborn.
Nursing takes a long time, there are tons of explosive newborn poops that require a bath.
Then your toddler wants a bath too.
Your toddler seems to need a zillion meals and snacks.
There’s holding a fussy baby, still feeding yourself, taking care of your postpartum body, and on and on. Not to mention your house, laundry, and on and on.
It’s just A LOT!
When your baby hits 6-8 months, you’ll look back and the newborn-with-toddler months will be a blur!! You’ll very likely get some of your energy back and eventually, you’ll find a good pretty rhythm for your days.
Quickly, your toddler won’t even remember life before the baby was born! Then, you’ll blink and they’ll be besties.
**by the way: Take care of yourself and don’t over do it. And, of course, get help if you’re struggling with postpartum depression. This post has some good “hacks,” but if you are really struggling emotionally after baby, get the help you need. I’ve been there!
It is so, so, so good for our toddlers to have to learn to make room in the family for a new baby.
Initially, it can be a hard adjustment. If you’re going from 1 to 2 kids, your toddler is going from being the center of your universe to NOT being the center of your universe. But, that is in fact how the real world works anyway.
Siblings are such a gift for our kids! Hang in there, it all gets easier each month.
What’s your favorite idea from this list? Do you have any ideas to add?