Helping your toddler to bond with a new sibling

The arrival of a new baby, a brand-new member of your family, is both exciting and daunting at the same time. When you first discovered that you were expecting another baby, you probably focused on the many benefits that having a new sibling would bring to your toddler. However, the reality of introducing a new baby to your home is often fraught with sibling rivalry and anxiety. Noah slapped Isla on the head the first time he met her! 

Helping siblings to get along as they grow up is one of the toughest challenges that any parent can face. Here are our top tips for helping your toddler to bond with a new baby:

Let Your Toddler Be Involved

One of the first things to do when you bring a new baby home is to enlist your older child as your special, grown-up helper. Encouraging the older child to nurture their new sibling will help to foster a significant emotional bond. Some good examples of how you can do this in a way that is safe and non-intrusive for both children is to ask the older child to read or tell their younger sibling a bedtime story, or to rub their back or sing them a lullaby when they take their afternoon nap.

By taking a step back and letting your children nurture and care for each other, rather than rely on you to take care of all their emotional needs, they are more likely to form a lasting emotional bond with each other. Toddlers are surprisingly good at soothing crying babies, whilst your baby is likely to be fascinated by the noises and movements of their older brother or sister.

Pick Matching Outfits

Many toddlers are particularly fashion conscious and picky about the clothes that they will or won’t wear. For the fashion-savvy toddler, why not pick out some matching outfits that they can wear to coordinate with their new baby sibling?

Matching t shirts, bandana bibs and pyjamas are all great choices and will help to foster a bond between the two children by marking them out as being part of the same gang or team. In much the same way that older children bond by wearing the same school uniforms or sports kits, allowing your child to wear matching outfits is a great way for them to bond visually, and identify the significance that they have to each other. If your toddler shows any signs of regression as a result of the arrival of their new sibling, they will also enjoy dressing like a baby, and the feeling that they are being treated the same as the new arrival.

Nurture Each Child’s Individuality

Whilst encouraging your children to think of each other as a little club or team is important, it is also important to nurture each child’s individuality in order to enrich their bond and ensure they don’t resent the presence of their sibling. One of the best ways to nurture your child and show them you appreciate their individuality is to praise them individually. For example, you might say “William, you have done a great job at eating your toast and Amy, you have made me proud by drinking so much milk” rather than simply saying “You have both done a great job at eating your breakfast”.

When issuing compliments to you children in this way, it is essential not to compare you children to each other. This will only breed resentment that could create problems in the future. You might well think comments such as “Your table manners are so much better than your brother’s” but you should never express them aloud.

You should give you children the space they need to explore the different roles that they can have in the world, without pigeon holing them into categories in order to differentiate themselves from their sibling. By embracing their individuality and avoiding any comparisons, they will have the emotional security the need to express who they feel they really are.

Have Special Time with Your Toddler

Having a new born can be physically and emotionally draining: babies leave you feeling exhausted and demand all of your attention. In this landscape, it is easy for your comparatively easier and less demanding toddler to be left out, and subsequently feel they have been replaced in your affections by a new baby.

Where you can, try to spend time alone with your toddler and give them your undivided attention. Enlist the support of your partner or a willing grandparent to look after the baby, so that you can relax knowing that they are in safe hands. What you do with your toddler is less important than the act of spending one to one time with them: a trip to the park, feeding the ducks, or even a morning out to the local swimming pool or cinema are all great ways to show your toddler that they remain incredibly important to you, and that the arrival of the new baby won’t change the bond that they share with you.

Listen to Your Toddlers Concerns

It is very normal and very common for your toddler to be concerned about the arrival of their new sibling: their issues are likely to range from big concerns, such as whether mummy and daddy will still love them, to comparatively smaller ones, such as whether they will have to share their bedroom or their toys. However silly their worries may seem, giving them a safe forum where you will listen to their concerns and take them seriously is a great way to reduce sibling rivalry and simultaneously work towards new developmental milestones.

Encourage your child to identify their feelings and allow them to take the lead as you work together to find solutions to their problems. Helping your older child to realise that a new baby is not going to negatively impact on their lives will make them more open to forming a bond with their new sibling.

Alternate Your Priorities

When you have a crying baby demanding your attention, it can be tempting to let their needs take priority over the needs of your older child. This is likely to breed resentment in your older child and prevent them from forming a meaningful bond with their new sibling. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should leave a baby to cry for significant periods of time, but occasionally leaving the baby for a minute or two and vocalising this (“just a minute baby, I’m getting your big brother a snack” or “I’ll pick you up when I’ve tied your older sister’s shoelaces”) shows your toddler in a very tangible way that their wants and needs are still important to you.

No one likes to hear a crying baby but remember that it won’t hurt your baby to wait for a minute or two. Making this sacrifice will have significant benefits for your toddler.

Embrace Baby Play

The arrival of a new sibling often causes toddlers to regress and wish that they could be a baby again. Depending on the age of your older child, this could manifest itself in the form of sleep regression or you may find that your potty training progress takes a step back. This isn’t something to worry about. If your child wants to play at being a baby then let them: this will help them to bond with the new baby and won’t negatively impact on their own development.

A healthy way to encourage this is with a new toy dolls and various doll equipment: your toddler may enjoy copying your behaviour by feeding their baby or changing its nappy. Offer plenty of positive praise when they treat their doll gentle, as this is a great and risk-free way for them to learn how you expect them to treat the baby.

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