Helping toddlers and preschoolers feel positive about a new baby
When a new baby comes, your toddler or preschooler might feel you’re giving all your attention and love to the new baby. If you can be sensitive to their feelings, listen and show plenty of affection, it shows your child you’re still there for them. It also helps them feel secure.
Spending one-on-one time with your toddler or preschooler is a good way to do this. If you have a partner, you and your partner can make time for your toddler or preschooler by taking turns caring for the new baby. And even when you’re busy with the baby, you can let your toddler or preschooler know they’re important by doing special things with them. For example, you might have a special song you can sing together or a special bedtime book you can read together.
You can also look for opportunities for your toddler or preschooler to have extra time with close family members or friends, perhaps by going to the park or doing a special activity together.
It also helps to let your toddler or preschooler get familiar with the new baby. For example, you could let them gently touch their new sibling when you’re there to supervise. Or you could involve your toddler or preschooler in caring for the baby if they’re interested. For example, at bath time your toddler or preschooler could get some bath things ready or help to dry the baby afterwards. Some young children don’t want to help with baby care, and that’s OK too.
Sometimes you can use this time with the baby to show your toddler or preschooler warmth, praise and attention. For example, if your toddler or preschooler is gentle or helpful, you could say something like, ‘Emmett is very lucky to have you as a big brother – you’re so helpful’.
And if you also explain to your toddler or preschooler that they don’t have to do too much, it helps to keep things fun and positive. For example, let them know that the grown-ups will take care of things when the baby cries in the night.
Your children all need warm and loving relationships and time with you to grow and develop well. You can build and strengthen your relationship with your toddler or preschooler by giving them plenty of positive attention. This helps them feel safe and secure. It also shows them how you’d like them to treat each other.
Breastfeeding a new baby around toddlers and preschoolers
If the new baby is breastfeeding, it can help to think about how your toddler or preschooler might respond to this. They’re likely to be curious about breastfeeding and they might want to watch. They might also want to be nearby during breastfeeding or even climb into their breastfeeding mother’s lap.
It’s also common for toddlers and even preschoolers to ask for a breastfeed at some point. There’s no right or wrong in this situation.
If you’d prefer that your toddler or preschooler doesn’t try breastfeeding, you can explain that breastmilk is made especially for babies, then offer a special drink or snack babies can’t have. You or your partner could also distract your toddler or preschooler with another activity or even offer a taste of breastmilk from a cup.
You can also make breastfeeding a special time for all your children. Here are ideas:
- While the baby is feeding, give your toddler or preschooler a favourite toy, activity or task. You might like to keep a special box of toys aside for them to enjoy during breastfeeding.
- If your toddler or preschooler is watching, explain that breastfeeding is a natural part of life. You can tell your toddler or preschooler how the milk helps the baby grow strong and healthy.
- If your toddler or preschooler wants to be close during breastfeeding, encourage them to cuddle up and listen to a story, read a book or sing a song with you.
- During breastfeeding, play your toddler or preschooler’s favourite music or some recorded children’s stories and listen together.
- If you’re not the breastfeeding mother, use breastfeeding as a chance to have some special time with your toddler or preschooler. For example, it could be a good time for a trip to the park, a board game or a craft activity.
Challenging behaviour after a new baby arrives: how to handle it
It’s common for toddlers and preschoolers to behave in challenging ways during a new baby’s first year of life. This behaviour can be a way of expressing big feelings, like confusion about new family relationships, fear of being left out or the desire for more attention.
For example, this behaviour might include:
- crying, yelling and even asking for the baby to be sent back
- behaving like a baby – for example, forgetting toilet training, needing help when eating or dressing, or wanting to be rocked to sleep
- refusing to nap or go to bed and waking during the night
- being angry around the new baby.
Tips for dealing with challenging behaviour
You can guide your toddler or preschooler towards positive behaviour and give them the attention they need by:
- spending quality one-on-one time with them
- keeping their routines as consistent as possible
- giving them plenty of praise for positive behaviour
- telling your children how much they’ve learned and grown since they were babies
- helping children express emotions through messy play, puppet play, drawing, music and so on
- staying calm – this helps your child manage their own emotions and reactions.