The arrival of a new baby can be a huge adjustment for a toddler. Hazel was 19 months old when Iris was born, and I was worried she’d struggle with the fact that she now has to share Mommy and Daddy. Especially because, being a stay-at-home mom, she has gotten 100% off my attention her entire life. So throughout my pregnancy and since bringing baby sister, Iris, home, we have made a conscious effort to help make the adjustment from only child to big sister easy for Hazel. And I’ve got to say, the adjust for Hazel has been amazing! It’s like she was born to be a big sister. She absolutely loves Iris! She runs to Iris whenever Iris cries saying “It’s ok baby Iris!”, and she asks to give Iris a kiss every night before bed. It seriously melts my heart.
I’ve had several questions about what we did to make the adjustment easier on Hazel so I thought I’d share my tips 🙂
- Talk about the baby a lot throughout your pregnancy: Children understand a lot more than adults give them credit for, so even though Hazel wasn’t even a year old when we found out I was pregnant with Iris, we talked about baby sister a lot. Hazel would talk to my belly and give it kisses, and any time she heard someone ask about the baby, she’d point to my belly or try to lift it up. And when we’d see other people’s babies we’d tell Hazel how soon we’d have a baby like that too. It was truly amazing how well Hazel understood it. And since Iris was born, Hazel has never asked about the baby in mommy’s belly because she knows that baby is Iris.
- When you introduce your toddler to the new baby, focus on your toddler: A lot of focus will be on the baby during those first couple days in the hospital, so when your toddler comes to meet his/her new sibling, give your toddler a lot of attention. With Hazel, we had everyone else leave the room so we could just be a family of four when she met her sister for the first time. We praised her for being such a good big sister and you could see on her face how happy it made her. Cody (aka Daddy) was also really good about playing with Hazel and giving her a lot of attention when she visited us in the hospital. I had a c-section and couldn’t move very well, but Hazel would sit in the bed with me and we’d read books.
- Read big sibling books: Big sister/big brother books are a great way to get the older sibling excited about their new role. We got Hazel a couple of “big sister” books that we gave to her when she came to visit us in the hospital, and my mom gave her a big sister book the day we came home from the hospital. Hazel would ask me to read one of the books every night for the first month.
- Give your toddler a toy baby: Whether you have a big brother or big sister at home, give them a baby so they can take care of their baby just like they are you doing. Hazel will pretend to change her babies diaper and it’s so cute!
- Let your toddler be your “helper”: Get the older sibling involved by giving them tasks to do, and be patient with their help. It might take twice as long for me to change Iris’ diaper with Hazel’s help, but it’s creating…Hazel hands me wipes (she pulls out wipes the entire time I’m changing Iris’ diaper and hands them to me saying “need two more MomMom?”, so I always have a big pile to shove back in the container when I’m done. Haha!), Hazel helps pick out Iris’ clothes, she helps give Iris a bath (she washes Iris’ feet), she brings Iris toys to play with, etc. Any time I see an opportunity for Hazel to get involved, I ask her if she wants to help, and anytime Hazel shows an interest in helping me, I try to find a way to allow her to help and try to make her feel like the job couldn’t have gotten done without her.
- Let your toddler hold the baby: Obviously with very close supervision. Pretty much every time Hazel has asked to hold Iris, we’ve let her. Sometimes she sits on the couch and we put pillows around her so Iris is very well supported (and we hover closely), and other times Hazel sits in our laps and we hold Iris together. Hazel now thinks she’s big enough to hold Iris while standing up, so I assist Hazel while she stands to holds Iris. She gets the biggest smile on her face when she’s holding her sister, and Iris smiles too. It’s so cute!
- Show your toddler how they can safely play with the baby: My ultimate dream and goal is for the girls to be best friends forever. I want them to enjoy playing with each other, so it’s important to me to start fostering that friendship now. But Hazel is still so young that she doesn’t know how to play with a baby, so it’s my job to teach her. Sometimes when Hazel wants to play with Iris, she can be a bit rough. Instead of yelling at Hazel to stop, I encourage her to play with Iris in a way that is safe for Iris. I tell her she can bring Iris toys, she can tell Iris what sound different animals make, she can talk to Iris, etc. Hazel will also ask for Iris to go down the slide with her or jump on the little trampoline with her, so I hold Iris over the slide or trampoline, and Hazel gets so excited that Iris is playing with her. And Iris gets a huge smile on her face anytime Hazel is interacting with her. It makes me so excited for when Iris is bigger and can actually play with Hazel.
- Limit your “no’s”: I have an entire post on positive discipline/limiting your “no’s”. Positive parenting is a style I stick to in all situations, and I’m definitely extra aware of it when it come to Hazel interacting with Iris. I don’t want Hazel to feel like she’s doing something wrong or like she’s always in trouble when she’s trying to play with her sister. If all she hears is “no no no” when she’s around Iris, she will 1) grow to resent her sister, and 2) start doing the things I don’t want her to do because she knows it gets my attention (more on that in the next tip). Some ways I limit my “no’s” is by telling Hazel what she can do and not what she can’t do. Instead of saying “no pulling Iris’ hair”, I say “hands off please.” Or instead of saying “don’t poke Iris in the eye”, I say “Iris likes her feet touched better.” Or instead of saying “no picking up Iris.”, I say “you can pick up Iris with Mommy or Daddy’s help.” I also explain things to Hazel so that she can understand why she’s not allowed to do something. Like when Hazel kindly tried to share her yogurt covered raisins with Iris by shoving them in Iris’ mouth, I didn’t yell at Hazel or make her feel like she was doing something wrong. I simply explained “That was so nice of you to want to share with your sister, but Iris doesn’t have teeth yet, so she can’t eat yogurt raisins until she’s a big girl with teeth.” Lastly, if Hazel is still playing rough with baby sister and not listening to Mommy and Daddy, I tell her she needs to walk away and take a break. I tell her that when she’s ready to apologize to her sister and can play nicely, she can come back over. Sometimes she is ready to play nicely right away, and other times she comes back only to try to hit her sister again. I calmly tell her it looks like she still needs a little break, and she walks away or sits in a chair until she’s ready to play nicely.
- When your toddler is acting out by hitting/biting/kicking their younger sibling, give your toddler more positive attention: In the mind of a toddler, negative attention is better than no attention at all. When Hazel is continuing to act out by hitting or kicking or doing something she knows she’s not supposed to, it’s a clue to me that she needs my attention. She’s hitting her sister because she wants my attention and she knows that if she hits Iris, it will get Mommy’s attention. When this happens, I still deal with the behavior so that she knows it’s not ok, and then I do one of three things. 1) Give Iris, the victim, more attention. When Hazel hits Iris (or steps on her, etc), I move Hazel away from Iris, and then quickly turn my attention back to Iris telling her “I’m so sorry. Are you ok?” This is the opposite of what Hazel was trying to accomplish. She wanted more attention from me, she wanted me to discipline her for her actions because that would mean I’m giving her attention. She did not want for me to give Iris more attention. By giving Iris attention instead of Hazel, Hazel isn’t getting what she wanted, which encourages her to find a better way to get Mommy’s attention. 2) When I see good behavior from Hazel, even if it’s just for a glimmer of a second, I praise her for that. If Hazel is getting attention for being nice to her sister, then she will want to continue being nice to her sister. Or 3) Redirect Hazel by suggesting we play together. Sometimes it’s best to hit the restart button, so to do that, I redirect Hazel’s energy into playing something else. Sometimes it’s “you can hit the couch instead”, other times it’s “show Mommy how high you can jump”, or “do you want to go down your slide?” To stay ahead of the problem of her acting out to get my attention, I try my best to give plenty of attention to Hazel, and to praise Hazel any time I see her interacting with Iris in a way I want her to.
- Spend quality time with your toddler: Show your toddler that you still love and care about them by making a point to spend quality time with them. Cody and I make a conscious effort every day to each spend one-on-one time with her. I’ve noticed that on days where we weren’t able to spend that quality time with her, she’ll start to act out against her sister because she knows that will get our attention. We want Hazel to feel and know that she is still loved just as much as she was before her baby sister was born.