Preparing Our Toddler for the New Baby

Bensen is at an age where he understands changes in our family but may not fully comprehend how those changes affect him. I was nervous leading up to Emmy's birth because I wasn't sure how he would react to having a sister and not being the center of attention in our home anymore. When Emmy arrived early, it made a few of the adjustments easier but it also made a few of them harder. Change is always going to come with challenges, especially when it disrupts a child's routine and sense of normal. What we did worked for our situation in particular and I hope that at least one or two of these ideas will help your family as well. Luckily, he seems to really love her a lot, she's the first thing he wants to check on when he wakes up and he's always asking to see her. 

big brother shirt

Prepare Your Toddler for the New Baby

Talk about the baby often

We tried to talk about baby sister often enough that even if Bensen didn't know what a baby sister was or how she was going to change his life, he would recognize what we were saying after she had arrived. He would point to my stomach and say "baby" and sometimes when we were reading stories together, he'd lean over and give my belly kisses. When we would work on a project in the baby's room, we'd make sure to emphasize that it was baby sister's room and baby sister was going to sleep here. The things that were familiar to Bensen as his own, like the pack and play that Emmy sleeps in right now or the binky she uses that is similar to the one he uses at grandma's house, we are sure to acknowledge that Bensen used to use them but now they are for baby sister.

After Emmy was born, because we didn't get to bring her home right away, this was even more important. We would talk about going to visit Baby Emmy and we would show Bensen new pictures and videos of Emmy every time we came home from being with her at the hospital. As we got closer to bringing her home, we started to talk more and more about where she would sleep and how excited we were to bring her home. Now Bensen talks about "Mimi" constantly and he gets really excited to see her and find out what she's doing (which is almost always sleeping).

Related: Four Tips for Simple Yet Meaningful Mother/Child Bonding

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Let them be involved

Bensen isn't able to help with much of Emmy's care, but I let him be as involved as I possibly can. While Emmy was still in the hospital and I was spending my mornings with him, I usually had to pump at least once after he was awake. He'd climb up onto the bed next to me with his pen and paper and some books and we'd read, sing songs and hang out for 30 minutes. Now that Emmy is home, he sits by me on the couch to help me read her stories, and helps me check on her when she cries. I work to find some way to make him feel like part of whatever I'm doing when my focus is on Emmy and I'm unable to give him my full attention.

prepare older sibling for new baby

Give them attention and love

I mentioned last week that the biggest struggle I had with a baby in the NICU was balancing my time between my two children. Emmy needed me to be there, helping with her feedings, diaper changes, baths and doing kangaroo care. Bensen also needed me to be there, and he was more aware of my absence that Emmy ever was. I had to be extremely intentional with the time that I spent with Bensen and make sure that he knew that I cared about him. We had lunches together, went on a few outings and he made a few special visits to the hospital. 

Now that Emmy is home, it would be easy to carry her around all day, especially because I have a wrap but I know that Bensen appreciates my undivided attention and the time that we spend together. We spend a lot of time playing in his room while Emmy is sleeping in her bassinet across the hall where I can hear her and check on her quickly. We read books, have dance parties, snuggle before nap time, and laugh over the most ridiculous things. Once again, I am intentional with my time when Bensen is awake during the day and find ways to make him feel important, even when I am feeding Emmy.

Related: How We're Working Together to Balance Life at Home with Life in the NICU

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Keep a routine

Our routine hasn't the same as it was before Emmy was born, but we have tried our hardest to make it as close to that routine as possible. It took a bit of arranging, but for the three weeks that Emmy was in the NICU, we had a good routine going. We'd have breakfast in the morning, take the dog on a quick walk, play for a bit and then I'd drop Bensen off to whoever was taking care of him for the day. There he'd get lunch, take a nap, play and eat a snack, sometimes come to visit us in the hospital, and eat dinner. After Joe had dinner with me and spent some time with Emmy, he'd pick Bensen up and take him home to have a bath, play some more and stick to his bedtime routine. Sticking as close to our normal routine as possible helped keep Bensen stable, even though he could sense changes and that something different was going on. Now that we're home, even though that routine is a little different than it was before, we've tried to keep Bensen's basic daily schedule as close to normal as possible. 

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Give them a gift from the baby

This is a tradition that my family had and that I've seen quite a few families have as well. I purchased a couple of new books and a bag of mega blocks for Bensen to have when the baby arrived. I'd planned to wait until Emmy came home to give them to him, but because he was coming to the hospital quite a bit at the beginning, I brought the gift there so he'd have something to keep him entertained. Some other fun things that I've seen older siblings get are a doll so that they have a baby of their own and a big brother/big sister shirt. A gift isn't necessary, but like I said, a fun tradition!

Related: Family Date Night is Important Too - Ideas for Family Fun

bringing home new baby

Be creative

Whenever my mom was expecting, she'd make a little story book for the baby of the family that talked about the preparations that would be made and the things that we could expect leading up to the baby's birth and arrival home. I had great intentions of making one of these for Bensen to tell the story of what he could expect, but unfortunately I never got around to it. There are also a lot of great already written stories that are based on the same idea.

For Bensen and our situation with Emmy in the hospital for three weeks, we found something more creative. Every time we would show him a picture or video of his sister, he'd get a big smile on his face and sit fixed on the image or the video. Joe decided to print and laminate one of the many pictures that we'd taken of Emmy in the hospital and let Bensen carry it around with him. It was the sweetest thing to watch him with that picture, since he wasn't able to meet Emmy until she was almost a week old and even then, they weren't allowed to touch or interact. He would give his picture of Emmy kisses and you could tell that he loved his sister already. He also knew exactly who she was when he finally did meet her and when we brought her home.

big brother visiting new baby

Make their meeting special

Bensen got to meet Emmy twice in a way. They met at the hospital, after she'd gotten rid of her IV. That meeting was supposed to happen through the window of the NICU doors, but the nurses told us that we could have the doors open as long as he didn't get too close or touch her. Joe rolled Emmy's bassinet out while I held Bensen and introduced the two of them and it was the sweetest moment of my life. The second time that they met was the day that we brought her home. Joe sat on the couch with Emmy and I sat next to him with Bensen in my lap. Bensen was intrigued by her little noises, loved when her little hands would touch his and couldn't stop smiling at his sister. I will treasure both memories forever!

I think one of the biggest tips I've heard, and one that I shared in my post about helping our dog adjust to the new baby, is to make sure that mom isn't holding the baby the first time the two of them meet. Our situation was a bit different than what I'd planned for because neither of the times that Bensen first saw his sister were also the first time that he'd seen me since I left for the hospital. He had visited me a few times in the hospital before she was born and after and I had been spending my mornings with him for the three weeks that Emmy was in the hospital. For a lot of kids, they are meeting their sibling for the first time and seeing their mom for the first time in a while at the same time, whether it's in the hospital or when mom and baby come home. If mom has the baby in her arms, the older child may feel replaced and jealous.

Related: Five Tips for Successful Family Date Nights

sibling meeting nicu baby

Like I mentioned, there will always be challenges when you experience changes in life, big or small. Tantrums seem to happen more frequently and Bensen thinks it's fun to push my limits when I'm distracted and taking care of Emmy. For the most part, he has been a lot of fun and really loves his sister. I hope that he continues to feel as fond of her as he does now and I hope that the things we've done to help him adjust makes that more likely. I can't wait to see how their relationship develops and what kind of friends they become over the next few years.

How have you helped your kids transition into not being the baby of the family anymore? 

7 tips for preparing your toddler to meet the new baby.