sibling; behaviour problems; new arrival; toddlers; misbehaviour; babies; birth; brother; sister; baby. ;
A new baby arriving in the family brings big changes for everyone. It can be a stressful time for young children, especially toddlers. Young children often misbehave when a new baby is on the way, or has arrived in the family. They may not know how else to tell you they feel worried or left out.
Toddlers don't have a strong sense of security. They may feel less loved when you spend time with the new baby. Helping your toddler to feel loved and secure will make things easier for everyone. You can help your toddler through your actions eg by giving them hugs and smiles and by spending special time with them.
Expect your toddler's behaviour to change when the baby comes home. Show that you understand how he feels. Try to spend special time with him every day if you can.
Before baby arrives
Tell your toddler about the new baby, but not too soon. Toddlers don't understand weeks and months and it can be a long time for them to wait. Tell them later in the pregnancy when they can see what is happening.
If there will be changes for your toddler, make them well before baby arrives. She is less likely to feel displaced. If she will move from a cot to a bed, make sure she sees it as something special for her – not that you've taken her cot for the baby!
Tell your toddler what will happen when the baby arrives. Involve her in planning for the baby if she wants to. You could:
- ask her opinion if you are happy to agree with her choice eg between two baby outfits you like
- give your toddler a doll as her 'baby'. She may like to do the same things as you do for the real baby.
Plan ahead for mother's stay in hospital. Your toddler will cope best if she stays at home with people she knows well eg father, grandparent, or other trusted adult. If she has to go somewhere else or be with someone she doesn't know well, help her get used to it before the baby is due.
Try to reduce stress around the time of the baby's arrival eg avoid toilet training unless your toddler clearly wants to. Learning to use the toilet is a big task for a young child.
When mother is in hospital
Let your toddler visit mother and baby in hospital as much as you can. Even if he cries when he leaves, it's better to see mother and know where she is.
It can help to:
- make your toddler feel special when he visits. Tell him you're happy to see him. It may help if mother is not holding or feeding baby when he arrives.
- take photos of your toddler with the baby to show this is his family and it's a special time
- give your toddler something of mother's to mind while she's away eg a favourite scarf or handbag. This will help him understand that mother is coming back. He may like to have a photo of mother to hold too
- give your toddler 'a present from baby'. Your toddler may like to choose one for baby too.
If he is not able to visit mother, phone calls can help.
When baby comes home
Expect your toddler's behaviour to change when the baby comes home, even if she is well prepared. Having a new baby at home can take everyone time to get used to. Try to spend time just with your toddler every day if you can. You may need others to care for your baby while you do this.
Your toddler may go back to younger behaviour eg wanting a bottle, wanting you to dress her, going backwards in toilet training. Let her do this for a while without comment. It will help her feel better sooner.
Your toddler may show other signs of stress such as tantrums eg when you are feeding baby.
- Let her know you understand how she feels. You could say 'I know you feel upset when I'm feeding baby and you want to play. I like playing with you too'.
- Have special activities you can do together while baby feeds eg read a book together, watch a special DVD, or tell her stories about when she was a baby.
- Some children like to have a doll they can 'feed' too.
Read you toddler books about new babies showing the older child both happy and sad about the new baby.
Show your toddler how to touch baby gently. Always be there to make sure baby is safe. If your toddler hits baby, remove her from the situation. Say something like 'You are feeling very cross, but we don't hit'. Don't let her hit you either. Teach her that hitting is not how to show angry feelings.
Some parents miss the relationship they had with their toddler before the baby arrived. Being aware of these feelings and giving yourself time to adjust may help you understand more about your toddler's feelings.
There are many picture books available to read with young children which help the child to feel that she is still special when the new baby arrives. The most useful ones are those that show that it is normal for the older child to sometimes feel cross and unhappy.
Community libraries are likely to have books for both parents and children, discuss this with the librarian. Most bookshops will have picture books for young children, or try specialist bookshops. If your child likes reading a particular book, it can be good to own a copy so that your child can 'read' it many times.
Schachter, F and Stone, R. "Practical concerns about siblings: bridging the research-practice gap", Haworth Press, New York, 1988.
Written in partnership
Women's and Children's Health Network & Parenting SA
Related Parent Easy Guide (Parenting SA web site) - PDF format
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).
This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.