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How can you help your toddler adjust to a new sibling?

Whatever the case, it is inevitable that there will be an undetermined period of adjustment for your oldest child when the new bundle of joy comes along. They are used to receiving all your love and attention, and this new arrival seems to take away some of that. You might notice that your little one isn’t as thrilled about your little one as you are. Here is how you can help your toddler adjust to a new sibling.

1. Acknowledge your toddler’s feelings

Keep in mind that it is natural for your little one to express varying degrees of negative feelings, or act out in one way or another. It might be tempting to scold them, but this can have a counterproductive effect.

Instead, try saying, "Being the older child can be hard. It's okay to feel mad or sad. Remember we love you." Parents who encourage open and participative communication with their kids help them to develop resilience and enhance their stress management skills.

2. Involve your toddler

While you’re pregnant, allow your older child to pick out things like toys or books for the baby. When the little one comes along, allow the older kid to help out with tasks such as feeding and dressing – just make sure you have age-appropriate boundaries in place.

For example, a toddler can pass you the feeding bottle, or even pick out a onesie for their sibling. Helping you out will make your child feel important and included in caring for the new baby. If your child is unwilling to assist you, don’t try to force them into doing it.

3. Give them some one-on-one time

Your older child needs love and attention, so consider giving them some deserved one-on-one time, even if it’s just 20 or 30 minutes a day. One simple way you can do this is to wear your newborn in a front-facing sling, which frees your hands to play a game with your toddler.

You also want to increase demonstrations of love for your older child. Increase the daily dose of hugs, give plenty of kisses, and say extra I love yous. Giving them extra love will make them feel special and reduce the likelihood of them acting out.

4. Reinforce positivity

Your toddler may display some form of aggression towards the new arrival, so it's important to be prepared. An older child might pinch, hit, or even throw a toy at their sibling. You might firmly let them know that hurting the baby is not allowed.

Avoid punishing as it may prove to be counterproductive. Talk to your toddler calmly and encourage them to express their anger in other ways. Studies have shown positive parenting significantly reduces levels of aggression in kids, whereas harsh parenting exacerbates it.

5. Avoid comparing your children

Comparing siblings, even about seemingly harmless topics such as who had more hair, or when each crawled or walked can breed feelings of resentment. Instead, make each child feel unique and praise their differences.

6. Keep a close eye when they’re together

Any parent would want their kids to get along when left alone together, but this is hardly ever the case. For a while, you'll have to hover close by whenever your children are together to reduce the risk of your older child hurting the baby, even accidentally.

If you notice your toddler is about to get rough, quickly pick up the baby and distract the older child with a toy, snack, song, or an activity. Taking swift action will not only protect the baby but also save you from having to constantly say “No”, which may encourage aggressive behavior.

7. Boost your toddler’s ego

Make your toddler feel connected to the baby by saying things like “He only giggles like that when he sees you” or “He loves it when you hold his bottle for him.”

You can also boost your toddler’s confidence by praising him/her when he/she demonstrates cooperativeness (handing you the baby’s bottle), patience (waiting without throwing a tantrum while you change a diaper), and empathy (trying to comfort the baby). Make a fuss about how they are being a good older sibling to encourage this behavior.

8. Offer a gift

Your new bundle of joy will inevitably receive plenty of gifts from well-wishers, which can be pretty hard for a toddler to see. Consider surprising your older child with a "big kid" present to make them feel included. It doesn't have to be extravagant – just a little something that says "I'm an awesome older sibling", like a puzzle, a book, a toy, or even a colorful pair of shoes

9. Avoid blaming the baby

It is important to watch your words when dealing with a potentially jealous older child. Saying things like "I can't take you to the zoo; the baby's crying" or "I'll help you after I change the baby" can make them feel resentful. Instead, try saying "We'll go in the after breakfast" or "I'll help you in five minutes."

While you're pregnant, your burgeoning tummy may prevent you from getting down and dirty with your toddler, but don't tell them that. She may think that the baby is stopping mum from having fun, and resentment may build even before you have your tot.

10. Stick to established routines as much as possible

Toddlers find comfort in routines. So if you can try to maintain their routine as much as possible even in the early weeks, it will make a big difference. Try reading them a bedtime story or eating breakfast with them as usual. It will take some time to strike a balance, but maintaining a toddler's routine will help to reassure them.

11. Be patient

While this period of sibling jealousy can feel long and frustrating, it’s a passing phase, so be patient with your toddler.

Final thoughts

The arrival of a new sister or brother can be upsetting for a toddler. Although sibling rivalry is natural, it is important to be proactive in those first weeks and years to ensure a strong bond among your children down the road. Finally, patience is key – eventually, your children will learn to adapt to one another and share their parents’ attention and love, as well as possessions and space

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