Preparing toddlers & preschoolers for a new baby

Find out how to prepare your toddler or preschooler for the arrival of a new baby brother or sister and make life as stress free as possible. Pregnancy can be a time of great joy for all the family, but it can also be quite an adjustment period for toddlers and preschoolers, especially for the first child who is used to having you all to themselves.
Find out how to help prepare your toddler or preschooler for the arrival of a new baby brother or sister and make life as stress free as possible.

Pregnancy can be a time of great joy for all the family, but it can also be quite an adjustment period for toddlers and preschoolers, especially for the first child who is used to having you all to themselves.

Preparing toddlers & preschoolers for a new baby


1. When to tell your toddler or preschooler you're having a baby

When to tell your toddler or preschooler that you're pregnant is a personal decision, but here are some things you may want to consider.

How old is your child? A child two or under will not notice the changes in your appearance until you are quite obviously pregnant. 

This means if you choose, you may wait to tell them when you are quite a few months in. The advantage of this can be that the wait is not so long for a toddler with very little sense of time.

If they are told early on, they will be expecting a new brother or sister to come very soon after. Seven months or more of waiting can seem like forever to a young child!

The only issue to consider is that they might hear this big news from someone else beforehand.

A preschooler or children at school are more likely to notice changes in your appearance or the fact that you are feeling ill or tired.

Little ears are also experts at overhearing conversations! So it might be worth considering telling them early on so they feel included and can get excited along the way.

Be prepared that once you have told your child, you may as well take out a full page ad in the paper as young children will find it impossible to keep it a secret, even if asked. It’s just too exciting!

2. What to tell your toddler or preschooler about the new baby

Tell your toddler or preschooler about the new baby at a time when you are not rushed and have plenty of time to answer any of their questions.

Do not expect it to be a one-off event. They are likely to have lots of questions and you will have many discussions over the coming months.

You may start with a simple “Mummy and Daddy are having a baby. You are going to have a new brother or sister.”

You can then be guided by their questions or reaction. If they have lots of questions at that moment in time, answer them. If not, just go with the flow, they will ask questions when they are ready.

A child who has been asking for a baby brother or sister and is exposed to younger cousins or friends may be very excited with the prospect of a new baby.

Alternatively, your child may give you very little response, as they might need time to take in this information and really understand it. The interest often doesn’t start until the baby’s room is set up, or even until the baby is born.

Don’t be too distressed if your toddler or preschooler is angry or upset. This is a normal and typical reaction for young kids who may be feeling confused. This could mean a number of things, including jealousy and genuine surprise.

3. Preparing your toddler or preschooler for a new baby through play

Ensure your toddler or preschooler has baby dolls to play with. This includes boys too!  Many families don’t buy dolls for boys, but it's good to encourage nurturing characteristics in them too.

They are going to be a big brother, and in the bigger picture perhaps a father one day. Role-play and pretend play is one way children make sense of the world around them. Props such as baby baths, cots and blankets will encourage this.

Give your toddler or preschooler praise when they're role playing, such as “look how gentle you are to the baby, you will be a great big sister/brother.”

Don’t be surprised if they want to put pillows or balloons inside their top to be pregnant too! Children mimic what happens around them to make sense of it.

Look for books about a new baby in the family, either to buy or to borrow from friends or your local library. Read these together as you may find it encourages your toddler or preschooler to talk in a relaxed way about the new baby or to feel comfortable to ask questions.

You can also use art as a way to discuss the new baby. Suggest to your toddler or preschooler that they draw pictures of what they think the new baby may look like, or cut out pictures of babies from magazines and make a collage.

4. Managing their expectations about the new baby

Your toddler or preschooler may be expecting a baby to play with straight after the birth and can be very disappointed with this ‘boring’ new baby!

Unfortunately you can’t fully prepare them for what it will be like to have a newborn in the house, but there are somethings you can do to prepare. For instance:
  • Visit a friend or neighbour with a new baby, especially in the last month of your own pregnancy. Talk about how the baby will sleep and feed most of the day.
  • Get out your toddler's or preschooler's own baby photo album and look back at their newborn photos. They'll love hearing their birth story and what they were like as a new baby.
  • Involve them in buying some of the things for the baby too.

5. Should toddlers or preschoolers go to check-ups or scans?

This is a very personal decision. If you do this, you will need to take into consideration their age and their personality.

If you do decide to bring them along, have a support person on hand in case they want to leave the room, get upset or ‘play up’ so you and your partner can focus on what you are there for.

It is worth remembering that some appointments or scans may in fact have some unexpected news which is why a support person for your child who they trust and know well needs to come too.

You can always share the DVD or print outs with them at home if you decide not to take them along.

6. Putting routines in place before the baby arrives

Consistency and routine will be very important for your toddler or preschooler through your pregnancy and in those first few weeks after childbirth.

Keeping the same routines in place at a time when lots of other changes are happening will help reassure them and help them to feel more settled. From bedtime routines, to still seeing their friends and going to kindy or daycare, it's important to keep these things going.

If you give up work near the end of your pregnancy you may want to consider keeping childcare arrangements in place. You could look at reducing the days your toddler or preschooler goes, but stopping them going altogether could be disruptive and will make it harder for them to return to care in the future.

You may be very tired near the end of your pregnancy too and a few days a week of childcare for your little one can be just what you need!

If the new baby means a change of bedrooms or moving to a big bed for your toddler or preschooler, move them well before the new baby comes so they don’t think the baby has ‘taken’ their room.

7. Planning ahead before the baby arrives

You may like to make up some play packs now that your toddler or preschooler could play with alongside you when you are feeding the new baby.

Fill the packs with items that they can play with by themselves or with minimal help, such as books, puzzles, cars, dolls etc.
Plan early and create a care plan for your toddler or preschooler during childbirth and for the first few days in hospital. Have a plan B and even C too!

As well as having your own bag packed, have a bag packed for your toddler or preschooler too with a change of clothes, pyjamas, comforter, a familiar book and a copy of their usual routine written out.

Accept all offers of help! Sometimes we try and be 'Supermums' but a little help during pregnancy or in those first few weeks can make all the difference.

Be specific if people ask how they can help. For example, ask could they take your toddler or preschooler to the park to play to give you a break. Or you could ask them to help settle the new baby to sleep while you give your older child some one on one time.

If your toddler or preschooler is used to Mum doing everything, your new pregnancy is a great time to get Dads, trusted friends or Grandparents involved as well. This will make an easier adjustment for your child when more of your time is taken up with a new baby.

Don’t worry if there are a few hiccups along the road. It’s a big, but wonderful change for all of you.

More child development articles to enjoy

Source: This article has been written by Creators, a nationwide service offering quality home-based care and education. Creators are passionate about seeing every child’s unique talent being recognized and nurtured.

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