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How is my child likely to react to a new baby in the house?
Your toddler will likely respond in many different ways to the new baby. At various times, he might be fascinated, whiny, disinterested, curious, and clingy. How your child behaves will depend partially on his temperament. Children who are more flexible and self-contained may adjust more easily. Those who are highly sensitive, need more time with transitions, and like routines may take longer to adjust.
Your firstborn may react to the addition of a new family member by testing you or regressing (waking at night, for instance, or crying "for no reason"). He's likely to want your attention most when you're nursing or changing a diaper.
He may even try to express his feelings by hitting the baby or snatching her toys. You can respond by saying something like, "I want you to be gentle with the baby. Hitting hurts. If you need to hit something, you can hit this pillow." (See our piece on aggression in toddlers for more tips on dealing with this behavior.) Never leave your 1-year old alone with the baby.
Most likely your child will also be eager to show his new sibling affection and connect with her. Read on for tips on how to help your toddler accept and even enjoy the new baby in your lives.
What can I do to help my child accept a new sibling?
Give him special jobs. Let your firstborn help out. When you bathe the baby, he might want to rub her legs or hold the towel for you. He'll probably be happy to fetch a diaper. When the baby cries, show him how to gently pat her back or talk softly to her. If he wants to hold his new sibling, set him up next to you and share the baby across your laps. Be alert. He may be done after a few seconds and try to dump her off his lap. (He isn't trying to hurt her. He may just think of her as a toy.)
Let him entertain. Toddlers often have a natural flair for entertainment – singing, dancing, or just making faces – and a baby is an appreciative audience. Not only will your child enjoy the attention, he's likely to take pride in bringing a smile to his sibling's face. Hold your toddler in your lap or next to you and ask him to sing a song or clap for the baby with you.
Read stories. Reading stories about babies can help your 1-year-old adjust to his new situation. You can also make a simple picture book of your toddler and his new baby. Include pictures of all the family members in the book and write a simple text.
Acknowledge his feelings. It's normal for your 1-year-old to feel a range of feelings about this new change in his family. After all, he suddenly has to share you with someone who requires an extraordinary amount of your time and attention. Rather than scolding him, acknowledge his feelings: "It seems like you're feeling sad right now. Do you want a hug or a story?" Or "It's hard when you want me to do something and I need to help the baby." He may just need to know you understand his feelings and that you can take a minute to listen to and hold him.
Spend a little time alone with him. Spend some time each day with just your toddler, even if it's only a few minutes of drawing or building with blocks. This time makes him feel special and reminds him that you're his mommy as well as the baby's.
Let him do his own thing. If your toddler doesn't want to be involved with the new baby, don't push it. A lot of kids cope with the change by "ignoring" their tiny siblings – at least for a while. So you don't need to expect him to play a greater role than he wants to. He'll come around in time.
Check out our collection of Parents' Voices to see how other parents helped their older children adjust to a new baby in the family. See our piece on solving sibling rivalry for more tips on helping your children bond.
NOTE: This piece was reviewed by Janis Keyser, parenting educator, co-author of Becoming the Parent You Want to Be, and a member of the our site Medical Advisory Board.