Adjusting to a baby in the family can be difficult for toddlers, who are still trying to understand their own place in the world. But there are ways you can help them handle their emotions and feel more confident in their new role of big sibling.
Parents may want their young learners working on early math and reading skills, but teachers often have a different set of goals. Sitting still, paying attention and getting along with others are key to later success in school.
The first time 2-year-old Collin met his newborn twin brothers, Jack and Aaron, he greeted the babies with excitement and affection, smiling at them and patting their heads. His parents were relieved -- but the peace was short-lived.
Within days, Collin had found new, not-so-loving ways to interact with his brothers -- sometimes squeezing their arms too tightly or stealing their pacifiers. "Caring for two newborns can be difficult," says their mother, Maureen Schuster, 32, of Atlanta. "But the biggest challenge by far has been Collin's reaction to the babies."
Adjusting to a new baby is a common difficulty for a toddler, according to Alice Sterling Honig, professor emerita of child development with Syracuse University's College of Human Services and Health Professions. "A toddler is barely done being a baby himself," she says. "He doesn't understand why there's a new baby in Mommy's arms who needs changing and feeding and rocking. It can be bewildering for him."
Honig offers a few suggestions to help parents ease their toddler's transition from only child to big brother or sister:
Stick to a routine Though bringing home a new baby will unavoidably cause some upheaval, try to maintain at least some of the routines with which your toddler is already familiar. "A bedtime routine is especially important," says Honig. "Rub your child's back, sing her a lullaby and spend a few quiet moments alone with her before she goes to sleep."
Talk to your toddler Your toddler may not understand why your new baby demands so much of your attention, but talking about it may help, Honig says. When you change your baby's diaper, explain to your toddler: "I used to change your diaper, but now you're a big boy, and you know that you can go in the potty. Baby is still too little to know that."
Be firm Aggression is a common toddler reaction to a new baby, and it's important for parents to watch closely for such behavior. "If you see an aggressive act, you have to stop it," Honig says. "Get down at your toddler's level and explain to her: 'Baby lives here, too, just like Mommy and Daddy and you. We have to be gentle with each other.'" Honig also recommends modeling loving behaviors. If she squeezes the baby too tightly, take your toddler in your arms and hug her gently, explaining: "Baby likes gentle hugs just like you do."
Make your toddler feel special If possible, set aside some time to spend alone with your toddler, such as special trips to the library or the zoo. Honig also suggests including your toddler when you are tending to your baby. During nursing, for example, hold your baby with one arm, wrap your other arm around your toddler, and sing songs with him. "Toddlers need lap time, too," Honig says. She also emphasizes the importance of body language in making your toddler feel loved. "Hug him, rub his back, stroke his hair -- all these things remind him he is a cherished part of the family."
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