How we helped our toddler adapt to a new baby

Brooklyn was around 17 months old when we found out I was pregnant with Blake. At that point in time I was more concerned with the pregnancy, the excitement and the morning sickness and I didn’t immediately think of the fact that this new baby would be a major adjustment for my first born as well. Brooklyn was used to all our attention, all our love and a new baby meant that this would need to be shared.

1. We started explaining what is growing in Mommy’s tummy

Trust me when I say that a child around the age of two has no idea what pregnancy is, and even though my tummy grew quite substantially as time passed, Brooklyn would look at me with the most “yeah right!” face I’ve ever seen when I tried to convince her that there is a baby growing inside there. But we kept telling her and explaining to her that there will soon be a baby sister joining our family. We encouraged her to touch my belly as well – she was reluctant most times but she did do it a few times.

While setting up Blake’s room, we would explain to Brooklyn that her sister will be sleeping in the cot and wearing all the little outfits we washed and folded. We also took every opportunity to point out a baby sibling or a sister in general when this was on TV or in a book.

We bought Brooklyn a doll and encouraged her to be gentle with the doll and show her love. She had a bottle to feed her baby and would carry her around the house which I think helped her get used to the idea of a baby.

The night before I was scheduled to go in for my c-section, we explained to Brooklyn that the baby is going to come out of Mommy’s tummy now and that I will come home with her in a few days. Brooklyn was just over 2 years old at this stage but she was still not very convinced that there is in fact a baby in there.

2. The introduction

Blake was born in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic so I was not allowed any visitors besides my husband for a few hours on the 1st day. I was discharged after my 2nd night and it was time to take Blake home to her sister. My husband came to fetch us while we asked 2 family members to stay with Brooklyn in the car. Once we came out, the family members left and the 4 of us drove home – Brooklyn was not happy at all – she was extremely confused because I was gone for 2 days and because there was an uninvited little guest in the car.

When we got home, we took out the car seat and put Blake in the lounge – Brooklyn was intrigued but not impressed – she seemed to be wondering what this baby was doing here and when it will be leaving. The 1st night was terrible as well – as soon as Blake cried, Brooklyn came running to our room in tears too. At this stage I realised how challenging this would be – Brooklyn was not ready to make way for a sibling.

3. We showed her a lot of love

We needed to understand that as hard as it is having a newborn in the house while managing a toddler and running a household, Brooklyn was also a little person who needed to adapt to very big emotions. We had to realise that she was not prepared this and it was our job to guide her through it. I especially had to work on being more patient with her because she was acting out and my hormones were still realigning. We made a point of sitting with her, spending time with her and including her in everything we did. When we had an opportunity we would pick her up, hold her, cuddle her and sit with her while she played.

4. We split our time with the girls

When the girls were awake, we didn’t both hover over Blake. When I was with Blake, Justin would spend time with Brooklyn playing outside, roughhousing, watching a movie, painting etc. When Justin was with Blake, I would spend time with Brooklyn baking, doing crafts, etc. When Blake was sleeping we would both give our full attention to Brooklyn. We also tried hard to do things all together but in the beginning phases, Brooklyn was not interested in spending time with Blake at all.

5. We included Brooklyn in the “baby” activities

From the start, we always asked Brooklyn for her help whether it was passing me a nappy or helping us bath Blake. We made a point making her feel that her help was needed. At first she would blindly ignore us and moan for us to just finish so we can spend time with her instead but as time passed she slowly started giving in, passing me a nappy, watching me change Blake, putting her hand’s in the water when I bath Blake etc. The more she “helped”, the more she wanted to join in the next time.

6. We laid down the ground rules

When Brooklyn started interacting with Blake some more, she was very rough. This was understandable considering she had no idea how fragile a baby was and she had zero experience in this area. We had a few incidents where she was a bit too rough with Blake and ended up hurting her and we needed to step in and be stern while explaining to her that Blake is a baby and baby’s get hurt easily. She grasped this relatively quickly since Blake would obviously cry. Having said that, we also had to let go of our paranoia and allow Brooklyn to play with her sister without us commenting the whole time – we just made sure we were there to watch.

7. We accepted that she wanted to be a “baby” too

Brooklyn was pretty much off her dummy by the time Blake was born but every time she saw Blake with the dummy she immediately cried for hers. Whenever Blake had a bottle of milk, Brooklyn would cry for a bottle. Whenever Blake was being cuddled, Brooklyn would climb on top of us to get cuddles as well. To top it off, Brooklyn was almost potty trained but the moment Blake was born, she immediately stopped all potty training – she had absolutely no desire to go to the toilet for a few months. Brooklyn was also a very tough girl who hardly cried, but after Blake was born she was extremely sensitive.

My first reaction was “why are you acting like a baby? you are not a baby, Blake is” but I soon realised that this is just a phase and that we needed to accept it and be supportive so we gave her the dummy, we made her milk, we sucked up the failed attempts at potty training, we comforted the crying and before we knew it, she left her dummy and she was potty trained, all in the midst of the chaos. All she needed was a bit of support and understanding.

8. We praised her

Whenever Brooklyn interacted with her sister in a gentle way or when she helped us with little tasks for Blake, we praised her and told her she is being such a good big sister. We thanked her when brought Blake a toy or did something nice for her sister. As they got older and played together on the floor, we would praise her when she played with Blake and shared her toys without fighting. This encouraged her to be like this more often and today they play together so well.

9. Patience

For the 1st 6 months after Blake was born it felt like Brooklyn would never adapt but after about 6 months, she just accepted her sister and now they get on so well (most days anyway!). There is no easy formula for getting through this phase, just a lot of patience and understanding.