Preparing for a newborn when you already have a toddler makes you ask yourself a lot of questions. Like How will I cope with 2 kids? What do I do when they’re both crying? How can I love a new baby as much as I love my kid? What on earth were we thinking?
Trust me, I feel ya 100%. But I’m here from the trenches to tell you that not only is it going to be “fine,” it’s going to be amazing.
Totally insane. But amazing.
You’ve just got to know what to expect and arm yourself with a few tips on managing a newborn and toddler. And you’ll be ready for that beautiful circus.
I’ve had quite a bit of experience dealing with a toddler and a newborn. My oldest was just 5 months old when I found out I was pregnant with my second.
Did I cry on and off for the next two weeks as I tried to get my head around what was about to happen? Why yes I did!
I was barely feeling kind of human again. And then, suddenly, I was in for round two of the complete unknown. In the coming months, I was going to be a mother of a 14 month-old and a newborn.
I’m not going to sugar coat it. There were definitely some rough moments. But while it certainly had its challenges, it was actually pretty dang fantastic. So much that we kept going: Rosie came 2 years later, and Lulu followed 16 months after that. (Yes, my oldest was just 4 when my 4th child was born.)
Every Child and Every Situation is Different
First thing to remember is that each child will respond differently to a new baby sibling. My 4 kids ALL have very different personalities and responded very differently based on personality and birth order.
Your babies come with their own little personalities, ready to delight and frustrate you. Some strategies may be perfect for one kid and practically useless with another.
The goal is to prepare yourself with as many tools in your bag as possible so you are ready with what you’ll need. This is 100% my parenting philosophy with everything.
BEFORE BIRTH: PREPARING YOUR TODDLER
1) Help your child understand that a baby is coming
You can use pictures, talk about other babies you encounter, or even get a baby doll. Take opportunities to talk about the baby growing in your belly and about having a new baby in the house.
While you may be certain that your child doesn’t understand (which could be true), you never know what is sinking in. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been blown away by how much my little ones understand. No harm in trying.
2) Have a gift (from the new baby) for your toddler at the hospital
The first time your child sees you with the new baby can be very upsetting for them. If they immediately get a cool present that you make very clear is from the new baby, this can ease the experience.
Plus, it helps them have good feelings associated with the baby. Ideally, the first association they have with the new baby is excitement (which is helped by getting a present).
LIFE WITH BABY
3) Focus on your toddler in the first encounter with the new baby at the hospital
Just like with your first, once you are handed your second child, you will not want to let him/her go. Your heart will grow a few sizes and you’ll want to get in your maternal cocoon and just bond.
This is perfect and natural. But when dad or grandma comes in your hospital room with your toddler, switch your focus to your toddler as much as you can. Hand the baby off and snuggle your toddler and get out the present from their new baby.
Again, this can be a really jarring experience for your toddler and you want to do everything you can to ease the blow and help them have a happy, loving experience.
4) Help Your Toddler Feel ownership over the baby
One of your main goals is to make sure that the toddler doesn’t feel “unseated” by the baby and instead feels excited about a new sibling.
Involve them in everything you can.
Have them feel like they’re helping in diaper changing, feeding, clothing etc. Depending on age and ability, they may not actually be very helpful, but help them to do what they can.
This helps them feel big and important and–most importantly–needed by you. It also provides a natural way to teach your toddler the correct way to touch and handle the baby. Example language you can use:
- “Can you get mama a diaper? Good job! You are such an awesome big sister/brother! What a great helper!”
- “You are a big girl/boy. Our baby is so little. We need to be soft and gentle with the baby like this [model behavior]. Can you touch the baby nicely? Good job! You are such a great big sister/brother!”
5) Be Patient With Misbehavior
For a lot of children, this can bring a period of real insecurity. The routine and foundation they have known their whole life has totally been upended.
When that happens, children often act out in order to get the attention that they desire.
This is completely natural. So be as gentle and loving as much as you can. Sometimes it’s going to be really tough. You will be sleep deprived and completely exhausted. But do your best to remember that this can be just as tough for our little sweeties.
6) Praise Whenever You Can
Build up your little one with lots of praise for when they interact with the baby and for all the “help” they give you. This will encourage them to continue positive behavior.
In the delirium that can come with a newborn, it can be hard to remember. But try to keep it in mind.
7) If both are crying, don’t always rush immediately to the crying baby
Though you are pregnant with number 2, perhaps you can’t imagine loving anyone as much as you love your first child.
You may even question if there will be enough love for your 2nd child. Don’t worry, mama. Rest assured that your baby is going to be your new obsession and you will be madly and miraculously in love.
You will rush and jump at every single cry. But there will be times (many times, in fact) when both of your kids are going to need you at the exact same time.
This is the really tough part.
Your instinct may well be to immediately meet the need of your newborn. After all, your newborn is completely helpless. And your toddler is capable of waiting a few minutes while you tend to the baby.
The problem is that your toddler has been #1 since birth and being abruptly unseated is a terribly jarring experience. If suddenly you are always rushing to the baby, and your toddler is always coming in second, he may very well act out with misbehavior and have animosity for the baby.
Be aware of the messages you are sending your toddler.
When both are crying, sometimes you should run to your toddler first. Gauge when that is possible. Even if it’s just a quick 10 second snuggle and kiss before you rush to the baby, show your toddler that he/she is important.
Now, I am of the mind that it is impossible to hold a newborn too much. My mom jokes that I never ever set my babies down. I’m 100% all about meeting every single need in the beginning–it’s how to raise confident and content children that don’t needlessly cry.
What I’m saying here is your baby can sometimes cry an extra 5 seconds while you show your toddler her importance.
8) Don’t Punish Curiosity
Your new baby may be endlessly fascinating to your toddler. Babies are interesting things! While we want to be sure and teach our children correct behavior with the newborn, we want to be careful to not punish mere curiosity.
I was working in the kitchen, my newborn on the floor in an infant bouncer when I suddenly heard her gasping. I turned to see my 14 month old in top of her. Frantic, I pulled my toddler off immediately and started getting after her for hurting the baby.
While the baby simply took a nice big breath and was perfectly content, my tender-hearted little toddler was completely and utterly inconsolable.
She wasn’t trying to hurt her. She was simply curious. As I held her and loved her while she sobbed, I realized that I needed to better gauge her intentions and help guide her obvious curiosity. Her curiosity was a perfect opportunity to teach her appropriate behavior.
9) Be Gentle With Yourself
The adjustment from 1 kid to 2 can be huge. There is a good chance you will be late everywhere you go. Getting out the door will be tough and may even seem impossible on some days.
Between toddler tantrums and baby diaper blowouts, things are simply going to take longer. Plan for extra time and be gentle with yourself. Lower your expectations and be kind with yourself.
Seriously, some days just keeping everyone alive will be a major accomplishment. I stillfeel this way on some days!
10) Ask for Help & Plan Time For Yourself
As much as you adore your kids, you will need an outlet and a reprieve from 24/7 mothering. You will need some help. In my experience, people are waiting for opportunities to help, but need to be asked.
Get a friend to come over and hold the baby for 30 minutes while your toddler plays so you can get out for a bit. Dad should be ready to make sure you get some self care time everyday.
Take a nap, or a bath, go for a walk/run, go to Target by yourself, or do whatever will bring you a bit of peace.
11) Take lots and lots of deep breaths
Mama, this stuff is not easy. You will have moments of supreme happiness and overall, it’s awesome. But not always. You only have 2 arms and only so much energy. In those crazy moments where everything is going wrong and everyone (including you) is in tears, breathe deeply and remember that this time won’t last very long.
And when it’s gone, you’re going to miss it.
You can do this.
Balancing a toddler and newborn may not be a cake walk, but it’s definitely doable. And having kids so close together can be a lot of fun, especially when they start to bond with each other. Prepare yourself and your toddler with these tips, and you’re going to do amazingly.